Words by Lorren Lemmons
I slumped over the keys in my locked practice room. Because I hadn’t been accepted into the music major, I was relegated to the worst time slots—6-7 a.m. and 10-11 p.m. I’d heard most people didn’t get into the major until their second or third audition, so I wasn’t hopeless yet—but I needed to work hard this year. The early morning/late night combination was getting to me.
Piano had been my thing since I was seven, when I’d come home to a second-hand upright in the living room and a stack of pink lesson books in the bench. In high school, I practiced for hours instead of hanging out with friends or trying out for the school musical. Occasionally, my mom let me call in sick to school so I could hammer out an hour of technique followed by two or three hours of polishing pieces for competitions. How could I major in anything else?
However, because I hadn’t been accepted, my schedule was filled with general education requirements. Other than a weekly piano lesson with my severe music professor, I had physical science, sociology, writing, and French. And while these courses were essentially checking off boxes in my graduation to-do list, I found myself swept up in fascination for the things I was learning. I was submerged in this new world of ideas I’d never even considered. I read my sociology textbook for fun, going back to read through the sections my professor hadn’t covered. After receiving a C minus on my first college essay, I won second place in a writing competition with my final paper. I researched study abroad programs in France and saved my money.
Piano had been my life, but as I recognized other opportunities surrounding me, I started skipping practices, or spent them playing pop songs instead of Rachmaninoff and Mozart. After midterms, I took a deep breath and decided not to audition for the piano major again. (I sealed the deal two weeks into winter semester when I broke my wrist disco skating.)
I decided sociology was the most interesting of the classes I’d taken and declared my major. However, as I perused the sociology textbook and searched through the course catalog, I realized that my real interest was in social psychology, which was part of the psychology major. The next semester, I took Intro to Psych in a huge 1970’s lecture hall, taught by a nearsighted eccentric psychiatrist who didn’t use slides, only occasionally scribbling illegible notes on the blackboard. I was riveted by his explanations of how human emotion was shaped, and intrigued by his stories about former patients.
I continued to stack up French credits each semester, and worked two jobs over the summer to save up for a study abroad. French came easily to me, and I loved the puzzle of working out a new language. I filled out dual major paperwork, figuring that I might as well get a diploma while I was preparing for my transatlantic adventure.
But I still didn’t feel completely satisfied. I tried a few English classes, because I’d always loved to read and write. I took literary criticism class from a wrinkled, raspy-voiced man who spoke about Marxist and Feminist theory like he was singing an aria, full of passion and reverence. That class exposed me to concepts I’d never encountered in my naïve, sheltered experience. But exams and term papers leached the joy from books, so I shelved that major too.
I’d slowly been following the psychology major roadmap as I flirted with all these majors, but I felt dissatisfied here, too. The foundations built on philosophy and speculation felt flimsy to me, and I longed for something more absolute. I had a friend majoring in neuroscience, and I eyed his textbooks with envy, but I had never been a science person. I’d taken AP English and AP Music Theory, shrugging my shoulders when my friends complained about their AP Bio and AP Chemistry tests. Still, during course registration for the next semester, I signed up for the neuro pre-requisites and hoped I didn’t lose my scholarship.
I didn’t. I fell in love with chemistry— balancing chemical reactions, the way the world could be broken into components that interacted in a complex and elegant way. I loved the balletic cascades of cell pathways, neurotransmitters locking into their receptors like a key into a lock. I loved knowing that as I studied action potentials, electrical signals were coursing down my neurons, sealing those ideas into memory.
Neuroscience didn’t come naturally. I spent hours in the library, and my G.P.A. slid a few points. But ultimately, I walked across the stage, one of a handful of women surrounded by men, and finished what I’d originally seen as an impossible task.
(And then, after graduation, I went back to school and became a nurse. Wouldn’t want to be too predictable. Also, I hated lab research.)
I probably have a few career changes left in me. I have a list of potential fantasy jobs I want—food critic, editor, chaplain, midwife. I’ve researched graduate degrees in multiple fields. I am thirsty for more, and exploring that thirst shapes me. There isn’t enough time (or money) in the world for me to explore every idea that piques my interest, but in pursuing my passions, I am continually stretching, finding my place in the world.
Lorren is a mama to two blue-eyed boys, a military wife, a nurse, a bibliophile, and a writer. She blogs about books, motherhood, and her undying love for Trader Joe’s at When Life Gives You Lemmons. Her work has been featured in several publications including Coffee + Crumbs, Mothers Always Write, Upwrite Magazine, Tribe Magazine, and Parent.co.