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Why I left Mendoza for Arts and Letters

Adam Newman | Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Last year, I was a junior finance major doing extremely well in school. Once the year ended, I would be six business classes away from graduating with a degree from Mendoza. The only issue was that I was miserable in Mendoza. Halfway into the semester, I transferred out and into the College of Arts and Letters. While this may surprise many, (and make others question my sanity,) hopefully my story can provide insight into one of the most important decisions I ever made.
My greatest passion is American politics and policy. Nothing else even comes close.  However, I decided in high school that I would be a business major in college. I made this decision because both of my parents were in the business world and I reasoned business was more practical than political science.
However, my first year in Mendoza taught me that I really did not like my business classes. They were okay, but I was neither passionate about nor interested in them. Even still, I worked hard in these classes out of a desire to do well.
During my semester in Washington D.C. fall of junior year, I took only political science classes and I loved it. For the first time, I really enjoyed going to class, liked what I was learning and really liked how the courses were structured. Even still, upon returning to Notre Dame in the spring I enrolled in six business classes.
As junior year progressed, I began to realize how much I did not like business. I was not very interested in the material and was finding it much harder to listen in class and study for tests. I knew deep down that I would prefer political science, but knew that I had to live with being a business major.
This created an internal mix of frustration, sadness and anger every day. One night I was in my room in Fisher Hall working through a problem set and got really frustrated at how little I cared about the material. I do not know why, but at that moment I decided to pull up a YouTube video of Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. In this speech Steve Jobs, at the time a cancer survivor, talks about the most important lessons he learned in life. I had found the speech inspiring before, but as I listened to it again it had a new meaning, with one excerpt in particular standing out:
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -­­ these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
That was the moment when I realized what a major mistake I had made. I knew that I was listening to none of Steve Jobs’ advice because I had prioritized the plan of attaining a business degree higher than my personal happiness.
Steve Jobs gave me the courage to tell my parents at JPW that I hated my classes, hated what I was doing, did not want to be a business major any more and wanted to transfer to Arts and Letters. They were originally not crazy about the idea to say the least, but after a two-month-long process of talking with them, career counselors and other ND staff, I transferred to Arts and Letters as a political science major, meaning that I will not receive any degree from Mendoza. (Full disclosure: any switch would have forced me to take summer classes or an extra semester. I chose the latter, and will not deny how fortunate I am to have this opportunity).
What was extremely important in my decision to transfer was that I made it with all the information, had an idea of how I would use my degree after college and how I would market myself to employers. I also substantially increased the amount of career preparation and networking to ensure a smooth transition to the work world.
Right now, I really like my political science classes and my switch allowed me the opportunity to write a senior thesis on health care, by far the most important and exciting learning I have ever experienced. We will see whether or not political science turns out to be a good decision. I am confident that it will be, but only time can tell. As Jobs said, “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
This article is not meant to insult Mendoza or its students, because I have major respect for both. I also have to express my gratitude to the many patient business professors who spent hours helping me and heartened by those who encouraged me to switch to political science. But that does not take away that many students are passionate about another field, but sacrifice that passion to receive a degree through Mendoza.
So in conclusion, remember Steve Jobs: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
I can affirm that any time of doubt serves as an opportunity. All it takes is the courage to embrace it.  

Adam Newman is a senior political science major. He can be reached at anewman3@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.