The existential crisis is slowly ebbing away and the solutions are clearer than they have been in a long time. One of them has been regarding the path I want to take next when it comes to getting a degree and having a career.
After I ditched the idea of studying Writing in college, I went after English because it seemed like the obvious choice. You don’t get to study your own writing so you study other people’s writing. And for a while, it seemed like everything was in order. I’d figured out what I wanted to do for the next three years and maybe also what I would do afterward with a degree in English.
But over the last few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about studying Psychology instead. The story of how that happened is gone from my memory, and it doesn’t matter anyway. This existential crisis was somehow definitely involved though.
Anyways, I started thinking about studying Psychology and it really excited me in a way I don’t think the idea of studying English did. To be really honest, back when I had started taking Psychology classes in Class 11, I’d really, seriously considered a career in Psychology. The subject was fascinating and soon became my favorite. But I was hell-bent on going abroad to study. Unlike Writing, Psychology was taught in India and I knew that if I said I wanted to get a degree in the latter, it was obvious that there was no question of going abroad. So I gave up the idea. I know I was stupid. Still am, probably.
The point is, now that I am no longer going abroad to study (and don’t regret it one bit, as I had feared I would), I can study Psychology. I’m no longer interested in studying English literature. There are several reasons why.
One of my mother’s friends at the NGO where she works told me that she was really surprised when I told her that I was going to study English. She thought I could better utilize my skills elsewhere. She didn’t say anything about Psychology; just that she thought I could tackle much more complex subjects – or at least, that’s what she told my mother on the topic.
And I kinda agree with her, so does my mother. Studying English means reading books and then discussing them, which I’ve been doing for years now – in my diary, with my book club, on this blog. A degree in English is just like a three-year book club membership.
Not that English degrees are easy or don’t matter. This is not about the subject. It’s about me and the potential other people believe I have. Even my Psychology teacher from school, who I talked to a few days ago regarding this new decision, said the same. She even admitted she wanted to suggest that I study Psychology instead of writing, but as a counselor, you are supposed to keep your views and biases to yourself and not let it interfere with your work with a client, so she never brought up the idea during the two years that I was under her tutelage.
I wish she had though because that would have saved me all the trouble and fights I had with my family because of my stubbornness and insistence that I study abroad. She saw something positive in that too – that I had tried. I tried, failed, and realized it was not going to happen. And I was happy. If I hadn’t tried though, I would forever have lived with regret, wondering what would have happened if I had managed to study outside India. I’m so happy things turned out the way they did.
My mother’s friend, the one who was shocked to learn I was going for English, also told me that child Psychology, the field I’m really interested in, is no joke when I called her to ask what it was like to work as a psychologist in general. I knew it was not easy but it felt like something I could do. I wanted to know if I was making the right choice because being a psychologist can be very stressful. I wanted to know if I could manage that stress. Did I have the emotional strength for the job? Would I be able to cope, or lose all direction, given that I spend so much of my time overthinking, obsessing over death, and so on?
Both she and my mother thought that I did not open up much to people and should consider that. They did not dismiss the idea of a Psychology degree – in fact, they encouraged it. But I had to consider my strengths and weaknesses.
I’m not anti-social; I just don’t have people to talk to. But my mother doesn’t get me. In the last few conversations I’ve had with her, she told me how I had to learn to open up to others; that being introverted (she didn’t use the word) wasn’t going to help me. I’ve tried to explain to her in the past how I’m more of an ambivert and that I can socialize – it’s just that I would prefer to stay home if I had the choice. Sometimes, I’m the one excited to get out of the house and meet my friends or fellow members of my book club. Growing up, I was a silent kid at home and around relatives, but slowly that changed and now I’m involved in what’s going on rather than hiding myself in a corner.
Several months ago when I took the Myers-Briggs test I started identifying as an INFJ, and later when I retook the test, as an INFJ-T. But something one day made me question whether the MBTI Types, despite being so popular and used so widely, had any validity. I’d learned in Psychology classes that people can’t simply be classified into categories because personality can and does change over time (though very slowly) and because human behavior is very complex.
It turned out that the test was designed by a mother-daughter duo who had no training in Psychology or creating psychological tests whatsoever. There were several critics of the test and though I didn’t read them, I knew I had to stop defining myself and estimating my capabilities according to my MBTI Type.
Quite a length of time passed between my taking the test and realizing that it wasn’t completely valid, even though I could relate to several of the traits that made up the INFJ personality. During that time, I firmly believed that those traits were all that was there to me. Even if sometimes I behaved to the contrary, I refused to see myself as anything but an INFJ and told myself that those contrary behaviors were nothing more than rare exceptions. I told myself I was a certain way and that since I was an INFJ, there was only one way I could behave or deal with situations.
The most harmful of those assumptions –they were assumptions and not cold hard facts- was thinking that I’m an introvert and not built for socializing. This, despite the fact that I enjoyed my cousin’s wedding and meeting relatives after a very long while; that I loved going to school every day and never took a day off; that I looked forward to each monthly meeting of my book club. Sure, I felt odd at the farewell that we gave to our seniors and then the one we received from our juniors one year later, but those were the exceptions. And the odd feeling was caused not by my “introversion” but because of my loneliness. I mismatched the cause and the context and started believing that I was built to enjoy solitude and hate socializing.
With this belief in mind, I created a vision for myself – the careers I could take up, the things I would do, the places I would visit, how I’d deal with people and so on. I built my entire life – or at least an idea of what it would be like – around the belief that I was an introvert and won’t thrive around people. Which, I’ve realized, is a lie.
And I’m so glad that that day I decided to google the validity of the Myers-Briggs test because when I did, I realized how much I was letting false beliefs hold me back from doing so many things that I wanted to do but believed I couldn’t because INFJs don’t do those things. Sure, it was relatable on a certain level, but it wasn’t the complete truth about who I was, and more importantly, what I could be. Forgive me if I’m repeating myself; it’s quite hard to explain my thought process right now.
When I talked to my Psychology teacher, asking her whether I had in me what it took to be a psychologist and deal with people every day (although on a one-on-one basis), she told me to go ahead. She has known me for two years, considering that I spent most of my time in her class or in her office, clearing a doubt I had about a theory she explained or the way I was dealing with my sister. She knows me well; I have told her things I haven’t confided in anyone else. She also has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has years of experience working in the field, so I knew she knew what she was talking about.
And it was such a relief to learn that she believed I could be a good psychologist. She even suggested, when I mentioned that I’d love to work with children, that I do my Master’s in Clinical Psychology so that I can work with kids at hospitals.
I just wanted to be completely sure. I’ve deluded myself so many times in the past, and now that I’d learned how harmful that could be, I wanted to avoid making that mistake again.
And now I know what I can do. I know I’ve got lots to learn. One important thing I’ve learned from the people around me, especially my mother, is that you learn as you go. My mother has an M.A. in English literature and diplomas in fashion designing and illustration. Yet for most of her working life, she has been teaching kids. And not just at schools. She’s taught at coaching centers, has been an abacus instructor, took handwriting improvement classes at military schools, very briefly worked for a corporate company, privately tutored kids, and even taught the staff at The Times of India how to manage their time. She never received formal training for most of the things she’s done. She just said yes and learned the job on the go, because it was important to make enough money to get us to the end of the month.
I know I’ve got to follow a similar path – not one of financial insecurity, but the one that my mother took when she said yes to things she didn’t know how to do and decided would learn by doing them. My whole life is in front of me, and I know now that I’ve got to be a student and learn the things that life needs me to learn.
I’ve got to stop limiting my beliefs based on a random personality test and pull down the barriers that I’ve put between myself and endless opportunities in the name of categorizing myself by a particular label.
Because we are and we can do much more than a particular personality with a particular set of characteristics.