Posted in Features

Taking (many) of the roads less travelled

Don’t think about where you’re going, just how you want to get there

lw - vlaerie cheng
Image Credits: Valerie Cheng

To most of my friends, family, and others who run into me, I’m one of the few students who seems to have their shit together. I know exactly what I’m here for, how long it’ll take, which classes will take me there, and what my life after SFU will look like. It’ll look a lot like life here, actually, because I’m heading to graduate school and then into the world of archives and libraries.

But let me assure you that you don’t need to know all that while you go through SFU. You don’t even need to follow through with your studies at SFU at all. There are so many other ways to go through life; so many other careers that don’t require a degree, certificate, or other proof of education.

I left high school rosy-cheeked and eager for a different kind of life; preferably one that didn’t require me to sit in a dusty, drafty classroom (I’m talking about you, AQ 5014) for hours on end. So I went to Vancouver Community College’s culinary arts program. Even though I spent 11 months straight at school, five hours a day, five days a week, it wasn’t the same dry kind of learning — as in, not the kind we do here. I’m talking about learning something from a textbook, writing an essay about an obscure aspect of the class, and taking a final exam that’s just a regurgitation of what the professor taught.

Instead, I got to taste the fruits of my labour, gain some employable skills, and descend into the workforce after only a year of studying. . . rather than the four-year minimum commitment to a degree.

During my cooking endeavours, I also worked on several books. One, a poetry book, another a full-length adult fiction novel, and a third a collection of young adult short stories. Turns out, the writing industry is harsher than the safe, warm kitchen. I never got to the point of completing a book. I’m a huge perfectionist, and never thought anything was quite good enough to start sending around.

There is so much to learn and experience. . . we shouldn’t worry about commiting to one thing.

This was also during my rock star phase. I played open mics, wrote songs, and generally tried to be as badass as possible. The only problem was my crippling stage fright. But it is a lot of fun, and the rush of performing and people singing along is highly addictive.

I had a lot of fun writing, rocking, and cooking my time away, but decided that cooking wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Cut to me filling out an application for SFU. I flip-flopped for a while between science and arts, because chemistry and I have always had a good relationship. I opted for arts and social sciences, thinking English would be a good fit considering my background in writing, and psychology would be a great compromise for sciences.

My first year was a roller-coaster. I took both science credits in my first term and fell in love with linguistics and philosophy. So I explored those departments, but philosophy turned out to be hugely depressing and a trigger for many existential crises. Linguistics was fun, but becoming a speech language pathologist didn’t sound like my cup of tea.

Then there was economics. The calculations were easy, the principles made sense, and it had real-world applicability in spades. Alas, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see myself crunching numbers and running hypothetical economic simulations for the rest of my life. It just wasn’t exciting enough. So in the end, I decided on psychology and English.

There is so much to learn and so much to experience. It’s a shame we have to decide so quickly what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives. It’s a daunting undertaking and it’s unrealistic at best. Many people change their jobs more than once in their lifetimes, and a lot of people pursue an area that isn’t even related to their degrees.

So to any students out there who aren’t sure of the path they’re on, just remember you never have to conform to the societal expectations thrown on all of us as kids. Life is not about going straight from high school to university, completing university within four years, then going straight into graduate school, and finally getting a job that you will be stuck in for the next 30 years.

You’re allowed to experiment with different jobs, different educations, and different lives. So have fun with it, and maybe you’ll end up taking a road less travelled, too.

  • Ali Al Adawi

    Awesome article! love it.

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