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Being Good at Something Doesn't Mean You Should Make It Your Job

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Every time someone turns 17, there should be a disclaimer that you’re going to have to have to start answering THE question. Starting in January of 2015, I’ve heard “What do you want to do with your life?” more than almost anything else. At Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, anniversaries, and birthdays I’m sure to hear the same question from at least four different relatives. Unlike so many my age, I actually have answer. Yet I dread having to say it.

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When people ask me what I want to do after high school, you’d think I was answering them with “porn star,” “heroin dealer,” or “puppy killer” based on their responses. I answer with music teacher. “Oh. Well okay. Well good luck with that.” Even some people who I consider to be friends have given me quite the responses or faces when I answer their question. By now, I still dread answering the question but have toughened-up to people’s responses. It all started when a teacher asked me what I wanted to major in after she overhead a few of us talking about our schedules and grades. When I responded with music education, I got quite the look. She countered with, “What about being a doctor?” I explained that I had zero interest in going into the medical world because it simply didn’t appeal to me. After this exchange, the floodgates opened for future conversations with anyone and everyone. “You’re really wasting your potential, Stephen.” I usually laugh this one off. Am I good at math? Hell yeah I am. I got a 5 on the Calculus BC AP exam. Oh, and did I mention my sub-score of 5 on the Calculus AB section? However, I would rather pluck out every last one of my eyebrows, rip my fingernails out one by one, and scoop my eyeballs out with spoons than do calculus for the rest of my life. If my talents in science and mathematics are the only places people see in me, they obviously don’t know who I am, and, therefore, should not be giving me life advice.

Lately, turning on any local news channel almost guarantees that you’ll see a commercial for STEM in our schools. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Those are four really important sectors in education–and lately our economy here in the Capital Region. Employers like Global Foundries need smart and motivated employees to continue their strides in technology. The keyword in the last sentence is motivated. Mathematics does not motivate me. It’s as simple as that. Variables and functions bring me no joy. On the other side of the spectrum, my brother is a talented musician. I often find myself jealous of his skill, as he never practices yet can pick up a piece of music and learn it in minutes. However, my feelings towards math are his towards music. Just because you’re good at it, doesn’t mean that you like it and want to make it your life. Thomas Ryan will not, unless something bizarre happens, major in bass trombone. And that is totally okay. For the same reason, it should also be okay that I don’t want to major in a STEM-related subject.

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In November of 2014, I realized that music is what motivates me. After years of having no clue of what I wanted to do in life, I finally found my passion and what I wanted my future to look like. My answer to this massive question usually gets scoffed or laughed at. “It’s not STEM, so it doesn’t matter.” Before judging other’s plans for their futures, it might be a good idea to talk to them. Hear them out as to why they want to do that and what they plan to do with it. Instead of wasting God knows how many thousands of dollars on a degree in something that I don’t like, I’d rather chase after my passion and do something that I both enjoy and find rewarding.

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