Today we answer a letter from Patreon Donor Julia, who feels lost after making a big change of direction in her life.
I’m twenty-one years old and I was in college majoring in biology, but I was just miserable and had to leave. But all I ever wanted to do was science, and now I’m really struggling with what to do next. I was paying for classes as I went (as much as I could, anyway) so I only have one loan to pay off. But I just really don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’ve worked in retail and foodservice and I hated it. I’ve been applying to daycare centers because I like kids, but I haven’t heard back from any of them. Any advice you could give me on finding a direction would be very much appreciated.– Patron Julia
This question made our hearts heavy. We hate to see a twenty-one-year-old sounding so lost and resigned. Because twenty-one is so young! You’re an adult when you’re twenty-one, but like, it’s the toddler stage of adulthood. The world won’t always feel so intimidating and impenetrable.
Our Boomer parents would certainly tell her to fOlLoW hEr DrEaM, dAmN tHe CoNsEqUeNcEs. But obviously we have to bring a more nuanced answer than that.
Allow us to remind all of our young listeners that…
- Cs are passing grades. They are enough. Let yourself step down off the hamster wheel of your own demanding expectations.
- College curricula can be more challenging than the “real world” career you’re preparing you for.
- Piggy and I graduated from college ten years ago, and in the last decade, the number of employers who have expressed a desire to know our letter grades in college is absolute zero—a thermodynamic state once thought to be merely theoretical! SCIENCE!
- Some careers are challenging to pursue because they’re vanishingly rare and impossibly glamorous: professional video game player, A-list film actor, high-end vibrator tester, etc. But other careers are challenging to pursue because they require a lot of intelligence, persistence, and education: biologist, surgeon, high-end vibrator engineer. Shake the former, push the latter.
- STEM fields will remain overwhelmingly male so long as women and nonbinary folks lack mentors and programs to help them through the doubt.
- Sometimes you wanna quit because you know yourself, and you’ve made a mature and informed decision about what’s best for you. Other times you wanna quit because you’re scared of failure, or scared of success, or unsure how to move forward. You will spend a lot of your young adulthood learning to spot the difference between the two.
A huge thank-you to Julia—both for being our patron, and for asking such a vulnerable question. I know she isn’t the only young person struggling with this kind of confusion and angst. We hope our answer will help her, as well as others who find themselves in a similar situation.
And as always, thanks to ALL of our patrons! Without you, we would not exist. And boy do we love existing!
If you have a question burning in your mind, we are happy to answer it! Find out how at our Patreon page.
Episode transcript (click to reveal)
Theme Song 0:00
If you need some dough
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In this patriarchal capitalist hellscape
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We are your kindly internet grandmas cursed with firm young bodies.
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Our time on this planet is limited…
So let’s get started
Today’s letter comes to us from Patreon donor Julia. Thank you Julia!
Thank you Julia you glorious and radiant land mermaid!
Julia writes: “I’m 21 years old and I was in college. majoring in biology, but I was just miserable and had to leave. But all I ever wanted to do was science and now I’m really struggling with what to do next. I was paying off classes as I went as much as I could anyway, so I only have one loan to pay off, but I really just don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’ve worked in retail and food service and I hated it. I’ve been applying to daycare centers because I like kids, but I haven’t heard back from any of them. Any advice you could give me on finding a direction would be very much appreciated.
This is one of those very weighty questions that makes me feel like I’m holding someone’s life and future in the palm of my hands. So just a disclaimer: We are not professionals and we have no idea what we’re doing.
Yeah, worse than not being professionals. We’re just random creeper weirdos who live on the internet and want I tell you our internet opinions, which are worth less than nothing because
Yeah – do not trust us. Ever!
Great. So credibility established.
I actually sent her a follow up because I was curious if when she said that she was miserable and had to leave – Was that the biology part? Or was it the college part? She said a little bit of both, but mostly it was that the coursework was much more difficult in terms of the amount of time that everything took, the number of hours that she had to be in classes, followed by then coming home, reading, studying, doing homework, writing papers – it was just she felt like she was spending so many hours just to maintain C’s and that is a really frustrating situation. I’ll be honest, as I have aged
And you have aged quite a bit since we’ve met.
I’ve aged beautifully. I’m the finest wine to your Two Buck Chuck – which is now Three Buck Chuck. Inflation man.
It’s really bad. Okay, so as I have gotten higher and higher and higher in terms of my career ladder, I have worked less and less and less and less. And I think anyone who tells you otherwise, either has a ton of integrity and they really pour their heart into what they do, or they’re lying. In general, I think the lowest paid jobs tend to be some of the hardest jobs. Oh, yeah. And some of the jobs that pay really, really, really well you can fuck absolutely everything up and they will send you out on your way with a golden parachute as thanks so you can buy your fourth Villa for your daughter’s horse groom. So the level of work I was expected to do in college was, in retrospect, the most work I’ve ever been asked to do and the hardest I’ve ever been asked to work. If I could describe professors as like bosses, the hardest and most unforgiving bosses a lot of them that I have ever had. So I do want to acknowledge the college is really, really difficult for a lot of people. That is a valid way to feel that you’re being worked really, really hard. And I don’t think that most jobs ask you to work as hard as they do in college. That hasn’t been my experience. What’s your experience Piggy?
It’s fairly similar. I do want to say that I work in an industry that has a culture of martyrdom. Publishing is one of those vastly competitive industries that’s also vastly underpaid. Everyone wants to do it because “working with books is fun!” but once you get in it like you work your ass off to rise by the like little inches rather than like actual steps up a ladder. So I do think publishing is a little bit of an outlier. But as far as like my personal experience goes, I think when I was an assistant editor, which is kind of the second step above the ladder, and two steps down from where I am now, that was definitely my hardest working period because I was supposed to know what I was doing by that point. I wasn’t, you know, an editorial assistant anymore, and by the way, like, my husband always makes fun of me because he says every job title in publishing has some form of the word editor. So editorial assistant, Assistant Editor, Associate Editor, acquisitions editor, managing editor, production editor developmental editor like he says, we all have the same job – we don’t. Anyway, I definitely earlier in my career worked a lot harder than I do now. And if by some horrible, tragic chance my boss ends up listen to this, I want to say that it’s because I understand what I’m doing more. And I’m, I’ve been freed up to do more of the strategic thinking and brainstorming and sort of idea work that I didn’t get to do when I was lower down on the totem pole, because I was working so hard at that grunt work. So I definitely agree that you know, for Julia, there’s probably a light at the end of the tunnel where going to school for biology is a lot harder than maybe the life of a biologist or hot take a science teacher because if she really likes working with kids, that doesn’t mean she needs to throw away her education in biology entirely.
Yeah, I know, I wanted to point out two things that I see in this letter One of them is “all I ever wanted to do with science.” That is such a strong statement.
And it warms the cockles of my cold dead heart like you always hear people being like “all I ever wanted to do is play professional baseball” or “be a singer” and she’s like, she just wants to do science. How fucking wholesome is that?
I think that’s beautiful and honestly, I think there are so few women in STEM that I would be remiss if I didn’t urge you to like, don’t throw away that love that you have for science easily. It doesn’t mean that you have to resume this particular coursework in this particular field at this particular college at this particular time in your life, but, you know, find some way please to bring that love of science into your life, just because there are so few women who can look up to other women in the field. And also like, you love it like this, this is the strongest statement of love that you make in your letter, all you ever want to do is science, that’s really beautiful.
It’s really beautiful. And also we’re kind of we’re kind of living at an era in which science is not as appreciated as it perhaps should be. So I’m going to go ahead and encourage everyone who has ever had an interest in science to maybe explore that interest.
Yeah, do it. Um, can I can I go way off the beaten path here?
You may! I grant you permission.
I’m really gonna psychoanalyze this. Majoring in biology, like biology to me is like, wow, like if someone told me they’re a biologist, I would be like, holy shit I’m talking to someone way smarter than I am. And the other things that Julie mentions having an interest in or an experience in: retail, food service, daycare centers. And she also mentioned that she was working really hard to maintain C averages. I wonder to what extent the internal critic is being allowed to kick you while you’re down.
Mm hmm. It’s a really good point.
It can feel like I have overstepped my skill I have reached too high in wanting to study this thing that really interested me. I should back off, know my place and work in something that aligns with people’s expectations of me. I could be completely off base on that, but that kind of like perked my ears up thinking that maybe the coursework is really difficult and that you are struggling with what you want to do next, and that you’re wanting to move to something that feels safe, something that doesn’t feel like you’re challenging yourself, not to say that those jobs aren’t challenging because they are are really challenging.
And you know, and I’m kind of reading into your answer a little bit, but like there’s the heteronormative stereotype that like childcare is an acceptable career direction and a safe career direction for women, whereas science, that’s the boys club right there. All of which is not true. In fact, you know, I do want to make a shout out to the male nurturers and the women scholars out there because what you do is important and representation matters across all fields.
Yes. And there’s such a difference to me between someone who’s just a professor or just a teacher or or just a coworker, and someone who’s truly a mentor to you. Someone who can really just like Kiki with you be really real with you. And I feel like finding that kind of person who is in the sciences would be really valuable to you.
Someone who could give you some real perspective about like, how much is what the coursework I’m working on now – How much does that really align with expectations in the industry?
Absolutely and that’s the kind of conversation you can have with a potential mentor or you know, like a ‘real’ scientist that will tell you not only like, #ItGetsBetter and the coursework is not indicative of what your day to day life as a scientist will be, but who will also be able to maybe help Julia get that direction that she’s looking for, you know, she wants to find a direction that seems to be her biggest issue right now. And talking to professionals in the field, whether it be through informational interviews or internships, or you know, going to the professor’s office hours. That’s where you’ll find out like, what your options really are, because let’s face it, neither of us is a scientist. So we don’t really know what the career possibilities are there. We don’t really know what the part time jobs or the entry level jobs are like in the sciences, but a real scientist or one of your professors (who are also real scientists – I wanna make that clear) will understand that and be able to give Julia that direction. She just needs to have the conversation. She needs to talk to people who potentially have the life that she wants to lead in 10 to 20 years.
Yeah, I think you and I both always felt like we really thrived in an academic environment. I think you and I are similar in the..
Oh totes. We’re huge nerds!
We’re such nerds – we’re freaking nerds like, we test well, we enjoy the sort of logic and the puzzles and challenges.
I finished assignments weeks in advance. I was THAT kid.
Ugh – disgusts me. I finished them five minutes after they were due. Welcome late in life ADHD diagnosis.
I also feel like you’re the reason I got into the habit of sleeping with an eye mask because you would be pulling all nighters while I was trying to sleep.
Yes, because it’s due the next day so I need to work until 3:30 in the morning to get it done because I put it off. But like, we really love it, like we thrived in that environment. Not everyone does.
And that’s okay!
That is completely okay. If you’ve internalized any of that feeling that like, because I have to work this hard just to make Cs that that means that there’s something wrong about what I want out of life. That’s not – that just ain’t right at all. You sound like a wonderful person with really cool interests, and I think you should follow those interests. And if you need to step back from college for a while or, you know, take a semester off and do a little bit of nannying or something that will help you just sort of keep afloat, but also regroup mentally.
I want to give you some advice. First off if you want to get into childcare, which is that daycare centers are not your only option. I (spoiler alert) was actually a nanny for about five years, which is how I paid my way through most of college, not my actual tuition, but my living expenses. And I recommend going on either SitterCity.com (they’re not paying us), but I’m recommending them anyway or various other nanny gig finding sites. So I would just say that if like kids and you think childcare is something you want to do, you can get into it in the gig sector, rather than just through daycares or preschools or anything like that.
Yeah, that’s great advice. very actionable.
I know right?
I really feel like I want all the best for you and I think a career in what you really feel that you love, a career that probably pays pretty well. A career with a lot of growth. You know, someone with a degree in science, there’s so much that they could do. So I want that more for you then doing the kind of work that has a more limited career path, fewer options,
The safe path
And you know, less money.
Less money sure.
Sorry we don’t pay people who do retail and food service and daycare very well at all.
Yeah, we don’t. If you would like to live a life of limited financial means, definitely get into the very, very difficult work of the service industry.
Hey, are you good with that?
I think I’m good with that.
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Hey, is there anything else that they should know?
I’m under a blanket!
That is good to know.
Kitty & Piggy 16:36
So I want to acknowledge that I think – Hold on.
Oh, was that a dog? Do we have a special guest appearance from a dog?
Sunny is having a nightmare – or a good dream. I can’t tell the difference. But he is twitching and going “wick wick wick!”
Oh he’s a little baby.
Yeah I’m gonna – Sunny? Sunny? Hey baby boy! Go back to sleep.
Huge thanks to Purple at A Purple Life for her help creating these transcripts!