“Being Happy is Worth a Lot More Than Money”: My Journey Out of the Arts and Back Again
by Jessica Myshrall, Peer Support Navigator at Ryerson University
At five years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to make art. I was certain of this to the extent that when one of my mother’s business contacts condescendingly said to me, “Maybe someday you’ll be an artist!”, I staunchly replied, “I am an artist.” But by the time I was old enough to start university, I had seen my mother’s struggle to make ends meet as a photographer. The financial hardship and intermittent periods of unstable employment that I saw her undergo made me rethink my desire to pursue writing or film — two disciplines that I had been considering at the time. Instead, I chose Arts and Contemporary Studies (ACS) as a program because I thought it would be a good way to channel my artistic interests into a “more practical” university education. However, when I met ACS alumni who were working at Starbucks, I switched into the Psychology program, ultimately hoping that I had saved my future children from a lifetime of hand-me-downs.
Now approaching graduation, I can’t help but wonder if I changed my degree for the right reasons. In spite of the fact that “counsellor/psychologist” always appears in my aptitude test results, my degree in psychology doesn’t feel like a great fit. Instead of choosing to study things that I was both good at and enjoyed doing, I allowed the prospect of money to rule my final decision.
Now, I’m not so idealistic as to suggest that money shouldn’t come into play when you’re choosing a career path. It should, but if I could go back a couple of years, I would have considered a lot more than money when making a decision and I would have given myself more time for self-reflection. This is exactly the advice I received from both my career counsellor and my ACS program director. They both told me to do some exploration within my program and to “pay attention to what really interested me” before declaring a major or changing programs. That’s what I thought I was doing when I switched into Psychology, but in reality, I was just trying to be as efficient as possible with both my university tuition and my time.
The same year that I changed programs, I spent two semesters studying abroad in France. I followed my career counsellor’s advice (this time) and took a break from worrying about my degree and instead kept my heart open for anything that really caught my interest. While there, I kept a blog to document my European adventures and it was during this time that I noticed writing gave me the same creative freedom that I had felt when I was still in high school and making movies. Doing it felt good and it felt right. The satisfaction that it created within me was intoxicating. After years of flitting from one career idea to another, I knew that I had finally found my niche.
In hindsight, it seems silly that it took me so long to get to this point. I’ve always been a writer. Even a glance at my elementary school report cards could have hinted at my strengths and interests. Maybe the answer was to just remove myself from the pressure of choosing the “best” decision before I had the chance to get to know myself and to figure out what I really wanted in life.
When I graduated from high school, my favourite teacher wrote, “Remember, being happy is worth a lot more than money.” in my yearbook because he knew I feared being doomed to becoming another starving artist. I should have listened to his advice, but maybe I needed to figure that out on my own. Yes, money is important, but so is doing something that you find inherently satisfying. I now believe that you should prioritize both, not one over the other, when exploring career options. Beyond that, it is important to keep in mind that the possibilities extending from any degree are far more numerous than anything you will find in a Google search. ACS might not have worked for everyone, but it could have worked for me.
In light of this personal journey, I am now of the opinion that taking time to decide on a career path isn’t a waste of time at all. Any career, be it a bachelor of arts or bachelor of commerce, will require you to work hard in order to achieve any degree of success. You just have to decide where you truly want to commit your time and energy. For the last year, I have been referring to myself as a writer with the same conviction that I had when I was five years old. It fits and it feels awesome. I know that this path won’t always be easy, but I’m confident that it will be worthwhile.