What did you want to be when you were growing up? Your family, friends, teachers, neighbors, and many more may have asked you this question. At any stage of your life, someone has probably petitioned for your answer. Yet, no matter what you stated, was it ever really set in stone? Would you have wanted that choice when you became an adult in the real world? Sometimes, we set out to do something life-changing, like pursuing that childhood dream. We set out to become the person we dreamt about being. But then, reality sets in and we must transition from what we originally planned. Fortunately, once we’ve overcome that shock of change, we might wind up finding a brighter light to follow.
Growing up, if you asked me what I wanted to be, I could have given you a billion answers. One day I would say that I wanted to be a police officer, another day a comedian, the next one a toy designer. With how indecisive I was being, people must have started to think I would grow into a jack of all trades, master of none. Which kind of is what happened as I became a teenager.
Once I hit middle school, I switched electives every year or so, pledging no allegiance to one program, club, or activity. Nothing would blossom into something I could see myself doing in the future. However, by high school, I decided that I should make a stronger commitment, so I asked myself, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” What was something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life, at least until my retirement? After a little soul searching, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a computer scientist in the video game industry.
Gearing Up and Setting Out
So, why did I want to do computer science all of a sudden? Growing up, there was one thing that continuously fascinated me more than anything else: video games. Starting with the Nintendo Wii that my aunt gave my sister and I for Christmas one year, nothing has garnered the same interest from me that games did. I spent dozens of hours playing a variety of games, then ten-fold that time going online and reading about how they were made – the teams responsible for them, the companies that populated the industry, and the individuals that rose to fame. I even used to trek out to the only major bookstore in town to pick up the latest issue of GamesTM. With a passion as intense as mine, computer science felt like my destiny.
To set out towards that destiny, I enrolled in my first computer science class in my junior year of high school. Before that class, I had no experience with programming or coding of any kind. I took this in stride because, well, everyone has to start somewhere. But from that very first day in class, it was an uphill battle. Every new lesson and concept was too new. It often felt like each day I was uncovering a previously unseen technology, unknown by anyone else, but thrust upon me to solve. My mind became overwhelmed with binary and functions, math and abstraction. This intimidation only continued into my senior year. Every day, you could have found me staying after school to code with my AP CS teacher. Yet as I fought this uphill battle, I kept pushing through and through. It was my destiny to become a programmer. And my thinking was boolean; either I did these classes to achieve my dream, or my self-given prophecy would be left unfulfilled. With this conceptualized, I knew what I had to do.
I was determined to study CS in college to become a professional programmer. As soon as I opened my first college application, I practically slammed “computer science” down as my major.
Sure, there were days when I wavered. Everyone does when they push themselves to do something. I had days where I dreaded sitting down behind the computer screen, baptized once again in blue light. But my destiny was awaiting me. I had to do it. That’s all I could tell myself, that I would be assured of my dream if I studied as intensely as I did, and fought as hard as I could.
The Black Clouds on the Horizon
This fight held up throughout my senior year of high school like it was one long sparring match before the main event of college study. Once I entered the progressive, modern world found within my university’s Engineering School, it would be one final step towards my dream career.
But as I readied myself for the promise of tomorrow, everything would be upturned in March 2020 when the first wave of Covid-19 came to the US. I have written about the upheaval in my life caused by the pandemic before, but I have always kept that private. I think all of us have kept some of our own challenges from that time to ourselves, for each of our own reasons.
For me, it was the disheartening feeling that loomed over me as I lost all my routines. No more classes, clubs, or computer science until my high school would reopen, which it never did during my senior year. All of that would have to wait for college, where my dream could resume its fulfillment.
I managed to enter college still very excited for computer science, though now I was worn out from the stressors of the preceding months. The burnout had started to set in. What could I expect to learn in this changed landscape, a warped world from that which I knew? Here, at this new beginning, I faced my toughest challenge. One that I could not conquer.
Now, I want to clarify something: Computer Science, and all other tech fields, are some of the hardest to get into. Yes, it is more accessible now than ever, thanks to a multitude of classes and online resources. I know many other computer science majors that are happy with what they do, even though they face the same struggles I did. But over the transitional period between high school and college, I had lost the spark for CS.
Once I started my college study, I knew my dream was over. Every day of my first semester presented increasingly difficult challenges, overwhelming and overbearing me each and every time. I had no mastery over anything. My uphill battles started to feel like the tragedy of Sisyphus, always striving to achieve but always being beaten back down. To be frank, this crushing experience produced a terrible time for me, one where I was deeply unhappy with what I set out for. My sweet dream was souring right in front of me.
So, with only one college-level CS class under my belt, I decided to walk away from my dream job. I knew that the path I set out on only proved to be sorrowful, with worse yet to come. With that ahead of me, I started to look for a new guiding light.
I then found myself in the market for a new major, which just reintroduced me to my infamous indecisive nature. What was there left to do, now that I rejected the path towards my childhood dream job? Fortunately, I found my salvation in something completely different from what I had been doing: the written word.
At first, I admittedly did not put too much stock into writing as a potential career path. I wrote a bunch in high school, and even used my skills to win a few scholarships. But even in my wildest childhood dreams, I never pictured a future in writing for work. By looking through the unhappiness I felt, however, I began to see the untapped love that I had for writing. It was allowing me to create in ways that CS never let me, read the works of writers and thinkers I had never heard of, and finally transcend my misery.
Within a few months of transitioning into an English major, my life radically changed. My love of learning had fully returned. My classes ceased to frustrate me and instead began to enrich my experience. I even found my first home for my writings at the Beyond Thoughts Creative Arts Journal. It was a complete turnaround from where I was going and how I felt, both for the better.
Now, I don’t want to leave with the feeling that what we set out to do might be wrong for us. That was just my case with CS. But, what we should recognize is that which makes us happy. Because if I stuck with my initial dream, I would achieve it but I know that I wouldn’t be happy. Thankfully, in my darkest moments, I found a new light to guide me.
The dreams that people have are like lights in the dark. We can follow them, but some may shine brighter than others. I found my brightest light as a writer. I leave you with only one hope: that you, too, may find your bright light.
About the Author
Leonard Brattoli is a sophomore Honors student majoring in English. He offers to the Foundation his writing skills as one of its newest Newsletter and Blog Writers. His background is varied, including experience in creative writing, academic papers, review work, and collaboration.