Accept Who You Are

When it was my turn to pick a major for college, I chose Computer Science. At the time, it seemed like a sensible choice: I had computer skills; these skills were marketable; and I didn’t hate the idea of a career in computers.

Sadly, it took the rest of college and four years in the industry for me to realize that not hating something is not the same as actually liking it.

I should have picked up on the early warning signs:

Sign #1 – The required courses for my major were not fun.

During high school, computer programming was fun only because it was new and interesting to me. By the time I was doing it in college, it had become repetitive and mundane.

The programming language was irrelevant — it was the programming process that killed me. It required exactness. Not “practically perfect” exactness, not “close enough” exactness, but absolute exactness.

I say this because you’re writing code for an audience of one: the compiler — a critic in the machine that waits for you to submit your code, only so it can throw it back at you when it’s not correct. Compiler error. Revise your code. Compiler error. Revise again. Compiler error. Revise some more.

Although errors could be simple typos, they were usually something more complicated. You do a little research, make a few hopeful changes to your code, and resubmit it to the compiler. In spite of your efforts, the compiler replies with the same smug response: Compiler error.

The process was maddening. It was like running into a brick wall, being taunted to climb over it, discovering a different brick wall on the other side, and repeating the process indefinitely. It was not fun — it was work.

Sign #2 – The general studies courses were paradise by comparison.

Rhetoric and Composition, Science in Western Civilization, American Cinema, Existentialism in Film, and Intro to Philosophy. I can recall the names of these five courses with ease because they stand out in my memory. In other words, I enjoyed them.

Systems Analysis and Design Methods, Telecommunications, Computer Organization–Assembly Language, Data Structures, Database Systems, Engineering Graphics and CAD, Foundations of Computer Science, Web Service Engineering, Programming Language Structures, Theory of Computation, and Computer Algorithms. I couldn’t recall the names of any of these courses at all because they blend together in my memory — I had to look them up in order to write them here. Put another way, I forgot them.

General studies courses were the lifeblood of my college career. They were unforgettable, because I liked them. Once I realized how much I enjoyed non-computer courses, I looked into my options for enrolling in more courses I thought I might enjoy. Unfortunately…

Sign #3 – I could not enroll in certain courses I wanted to take.

Beginning Piano: This would have been perfect for me because I’ve wanted to play piano for a long time. The problem was that Piano was an ARTS course, and I was majoring in the SCIENCES. The same was true for Intro to Sculpture, Creative Nonfiction Workshop, and Computer Graphics — as ARTS courses, they would not count towards my major.

(If you’re wondering why I couldn’t take Computer Graphics as a CS major, here’s why: There were two “Computer Graphics” courses. The one I wanted to take taught you how to use Photoshop. The one that counted towards my major taught you how to make Photoshop.)

Sign #4 – My primary form of recreation was writing.

I kept a journal while attending college. I wrote it it nearly every day for at least one hour. It was not something I did as an assignment for one of my professors. It was not something I did for anyone else. It was something I did for myself, because it was what I loved to do.

Sign #5 – Friends who knew me best told me I was a writer at heart.

An excerpt from my college journal:

JANUARY 18 2001

Last night Alicia and I were lying on my bed, talking about the irrational things we dream of doing. We can’t though, because we’re too stubborn. We’re both addicted to being rational.

It was an upsetting conversation because we convinced ourselves how meaningless grades are. We decided that we shouldn’t be so neurotic about these unimportant things, and focus on what’s truly important to us. Ironically, she ended our conversation by saying “I should go…I still have homework to do.”

I purposely fell out of my bed. She leaned over the edge, looked down at me, and said “There I go contradicting myself again.”

After she left, I thought I should summarize the readings for science in western civilization. I ended up writing a poem about my suppressed desires for Alicia instead:

how can you lust over the library girl?
the one that keeps her eyes down and her legs crossed.
sweaters and jeans, nothing fancy.
she’s a birthday present with dynamite inside.
but, every time you see her,
it’s to measure the swell of her breasts with your eyes.
every glimpse of skin is a bonfire, burning, burning.
you write her letters,
begging her to forget everything and run away with you,
but you never give them to her.
the library girl is almost completely off limits,
and you know she likes it that way.
you ask the advice of others, and all they can say is:
“the LIBRARY girl? why?”
and you can’t explain it to them.
she just has this hidden virginal spark,
and you want to be the one to drag her into the mud.
you want to be the one to suck the spark out of her.
but you’re too scared, and too timid,
and all you do is travel aimlessly around,
watching for her,
driving past her house with the sad songs on.
you don’t know how to go forward, and you can’t go back,
so you’re left spinning your wheels in the mud.
and, while you wait, with bated breath,
she turns away and starts another book.

I called her up and read it to her. She said “Shaun!? What are you doing in computer science? You are a writer!”

Regardless of all of these signs, I repeatedly denied who I was. I convinced myself that I was a computer guy, because being a computer guy seemed more practical than being a writer. Years later, I realize that it doesn’t matter if it’s more practical — it’s not who I want to be. It’s not who I am.

Which brings me to my point: It’s easy to bury your passion beneath a pile of bills and let rationality run your life. I’ve done it, just as many others have and countless others do — but I don’t recommend it. The real you was never meant to be shut out.

Accept who you are, and then be who you are. Once you have, you’ll only regret you didn’t start doing it sooner.

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16 Responses to “Accept Who You Are”

#1 Curtis on 05, Oct, 2007 at 1:54 am

5 More Signs You’ve Chosen The Wrong Major

1. Philosophy
2. General Studies
3. Women Studies
4. Latin-American Development Studies
5. Did I say philosophy? Philosophy.

We’ll be sorry to lose you, but if you didn’t like programming, CS wasn’t really for you anyways.

#2 Zach on 05, Oct, 2007 at 2:23 am

I’m currently having to decide what I want to major in. This article has been very helpful, so I’m going to say fuck law, I want to do archeology!

#3 truth on 05, Oct, 2007 at 5:55 am

Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Did you get with Alicia or not? 😛

#4 Bob on 05, Oct, 2007 at 9:07 am

Great article. I’ve posted a couple of times here. A year or two ago I wouldn’t have understood what you were saying, but it all now makes perfect sense. I’ve recently taken the physical exams to become a professional firefighter after 5 years as a network administrator after losing my friend and mentor in the field. It made me reevaluate why I was in IT. When I told my friends I was going to pursue a job in the fire service, a few actually laughed at me and it’s sad to say that I’ve lost a bunch of friends because of it, but I’ve found that I would rather be poor and happy working a job that I love than monetarily compensated for misery. Good luck in your continued success.

#5 Eileen on 05, Oct, 2007 at 10:00 am

Great article! I find myself in a similar situation. I went into computer science partly because my parents thought it was the best option for me, and partly because I seemed good at it, didn’t hate it, and even kind of liked it. It’s great when everything just works, and I like having the skills, but the fact is, my skills aren’t all that great, and I find computers tedious. I could improve if I made an effort, but the process is just boring. I enjoy languages, dancing, moving around, watching TV, and reading literature or weird history on Wikipedia more than computer science, but ironically, all the personality tests I’ve taken suggest that I’m an engineering/computers type. The other problem: I want the fame, adulation, and money of succeeding at something that’s somewhat glamorous, but I don’t want the challenges or the hard work.

#6 LJ on 05, Oct, 2007 at 8:51 pm

I miss your college journal. You are a writer. I envy your ability to put thoughts together so delicately.

#7 Saedel on 05, Oct, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Hello Shaun, this is my first comment here, although I’ve been reading for quite some time now.

Nice article. I think the years you spent in college were necessary to find what you really enjoy doing. You met people and friends who helped you realize what’s truly in your heart.

So congratulations for finding, accepting, and being the real you. *thumbs-up*


#8 John on 07, Oct, 2007 at 10:12 am

I find it interesting that many of your reasons for leaving CS centered around their recreational value, and your personal preferences.

Of course they aren’t fun. They’re required courses, not mini-vacations. And as to the compiler requiring code perfection… this is something that every programmer gets used to. Learning to program well is a process of hard work and, above all else, determination.

Here would be my actual responses to your points, one by one.

Sign #1 – The required courses for my major were not fun.

They aren’t supposed to be fun. They’re necessary courses to build the foundations of your future skills.

Sign #2 – The general studies courses were paradise by comparison.

Of course- they’re easier courses. They also tend to resemble high-school level courses more in their presentation, so most students find them easier to jump into, with science/math/foreign requiring a tougher learning curve.

Sign #3 – I could not enroll in certain courses I wanted to take.

This is what we call life, Shaun. You don’t always get what you want. But sometimes a lemon does turn into lemonade…

Sign #4 – My primary form of recreation was writing.

Learning the difference between work and play is an essential life skill. One of my favorite things to do is write, as well. I have always been a talented writer (I get it from my mother) but I know that enjoying writing does not translate to success in the writing field. I am not pursuing a career in writing, although I know I would “enjoy it” immensely.

Work is not play, and if you think it ever will be, you’re simply being naive.

Sign #5 – Friends who knew me best told me I was a writer at heart.

Most of my friends are shocked when they hear I am doing web design, and not pursuing my writing, which I had always thought I would be into as a child. But my dreams of becoming an author were “fun” in fifth grade. Now, I have rent and bills every month, and more responsibilities than I could ever imagined in fifth grade. Needless to say, I am taking care of business, rather than chasing a pipe dream.

I’ll keep being honest. If one of the reasons you dropped computer science was because a girl complimented a poem you wrote for her… *facepalm*

The whole situation just reeks of naiveté. I think you need to get your priorities in order, think about where YOU want to be in 10 years, and what you NEED to get done to get there.

I honestly don’t believe that writing an pseudo-inspirational self-help blog that will lead others down your rather ignorant life path isn’t going to take your life in the best directions. I don’t think you really have the qualifications to write such a blog until you have actually attained success with your strategy. Preaching it before it’s actually passed the test just seems arrogant and naive.

#9 Thomas on 08, Oct, 2007 at 3:56 am

Shaun: Thank you for the article, it is inspiring. You are a great writer and you provide value. It is so great that you are able to live your dream. Keep up the good work.

#10 Tejvan Pettinger on 08, Oct, 2007 at 7:46 am

Good article. I studied Economic, philosophy and Politics. Luckily I enjoyed it. But, now I enjoy writing on other topics as well.

Great blog btw

#11 Lauren on 09, Oct, 2007 at 12:02 am

Reading this helps me to know I am on the right path. I absolutely loved my LIS classes (not the IT ones so much but that’s because they are a little too basic) and I’m actually sad they’re over (but really ready to have my MLIS already). Feeling happy in my classes and in my work means I’m doing the right thing. I think you are too, Shaun.

#12 Jinno on 09, Oct, 2007 at 5:36 am

@ John:

Dude, he had kept with Computer Science for quite a few years. He did keep with his classes, and he did get his degree. Problem was, once he got it, he never truly liked the jobs he worked.

And I’ll have to agree with him. I don’t want to take a job doing something I don’t truly want to be doing for the rest of my life. It’ll be useful toward helping me stay alive financially, but what else is there as an incentive?

You seem to be more intent on degrading Shaun because he left a field you enjoy than to see his point. He didn’t give up Computer Science because a girl told him that he should be a writer, he gave it up because it ended up not being what was right for him. If it’s right for you, fine, embrace it.

Don’t degrade others if you’re actually regretting it yourself, though.

#13 BQ on 10, Oct, 2007 at 5:51 pm

I feel like I could have written this. I’d rather be doing anything than programming. I’ve found that computer science as a SCIENCE is pretty interesting. It’s just a subset of math, which is something I also find very interesting. But I’m not interested in the career that comes along with it. It may provide me a steady income and a fancy job title, but it makes me hate myself and my life.

#14 antoine on 01, Nov, 2007 at 6:30 pm

Amen to that. I went into computer programming straight out of high school. At the time I chose it, I thought it would make a good “backup plan” while I continued to write and record songs. I mean I was good with computers, and I enjoyed creating stuff with visual basic in high school. But when I got to college and got a taste of the work of a computer programmer, I knew it wasnt for me. I only took me 2 semesters before I realized I was headed for the life of the “working dead” and got the hell out of there. No amount of financial security is worth unhappyness. My bliss is in creating music. So I dropped that and studied audio engineering. I may not be making a ton of money (yet), but I love my life.

#15 Daniel on 10, Sep, 2008 at 4:18 pm

i´ll wait for your soon success ,writing, sir, its cool you´ve made up your mind and spin the direction* your life was taking.

I´ts brave shit, and awesome decicion. However… dude… I´m beginning to program myself… after years of lost young years of my youth used only to have ¿fun? and using drugs… and damm I´ve come to realize I do like programming… and I can say that only the ones that are not too good at it, are the candidates to retire and pursue another career…

you can be totally honest here… And anyways, either i´m right or wrong…

Give your heart at it!! make a book! Soon!!


#16 Steph on 17, Jan, 2009 at 2:51 pm

what if you have no special skills at all??? …i envy you shaun i think is so great to actually love something and have the skills to do it or at least pursue it!!! i am little late reading this though …but i think is a great article and i really like the poem you wrote to alice!!!! …. but if you have no special skills at all and everything you´ve ever done you have done it because you have to… at the time of choosing what should you pick… to endure the situation some more and pick a career that might give you some estability or risk it and follow a career that calls your attention even though you dont have the skills for it….??????

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