How I Overcame My Degree and Found Happiness

Choosing the Wrong Major

I still remember my last semester of college. My classmates and I were all doing our externships together at a local hospital, and I was completely exhausted. I dreaded waking up at the crack of dawn each day and slipping into my scrubs. I hated spending a full day in class and then putting in a 12-hour shift in the emergency room. I hated my classmates, I hated the long hours required for a nursing position, and I hated my life in general.

When I walked across the stage to get my diploma, I broke down and cried. My parents thought it was because I was excited about finishing college and starting my new life. They were wrong. I was crying because I regretted majoring in nursing. I was crying because I just spent $80,000 on an education to help me get a job in a field that I didn’t even like anymore.

Tough Job Search

Oh, while we’re talking about getting a job, I should probably mention that I didn’t get one right away. You’ve probably heard that nursing is an in-demand profession and that qualified candidates have no problem finding employment. Yeah, I believed all that hype too. I didn’t like the hospital where I did my externship, but I figured it would be a breeze to find a position someplace else. Each day, I came home and sent out my resume and cover letter to private practices, clinics, and hospitals. Nobody called.

Just in case you were wondering, the government doesn’t play around when it comes to getting back the money that you owe. My voicemail was filled with calls reminding me that my loans were in default, and I knew that I had to do something fast. I decided to take a job at the hospital where I did my externship until I could figure out something else. I worked there for five long years, and I spent the majority of each shift wondering why I didn’t choose a different major. I was making more than $100,000 a year when I finally quit, but I was putting in long hours and sacrificing my own health to care for others.

Time to Change

When I first quit my nursing job, I was overweight, anxious, and depressed. I was also scared. My parents were convinced that I had made a terrible mistake, and they wasted no time reminding me of this on a daily basis. My friends were all fellow nurses, so I felt incredibly left out as I listened to them vent about cranky patients and crooked catheters.

I threw myself a pretty nice pity party for a few months. I lounged around in my pajamas and refused to go anywhere that required me to wear real clothes. I sobbed hysterically as I watched soap operas and court shows. I lived on potato chips and ice cream. I won’t even tell you how many showers I took during that time, but let’s just say my water bill was pretty low. Oh, life was just wonderful.

An Awakening

My pity party finally ended around Christmas. I took my nephew to see Santa, and the little girl in front of us was absolutely adorable. Her thick, brunette hair curled into perfect waves down her back, and she was dressed in a beautiful red holiday dress. She climbed on Santa’s lap and said, “Santa, you don’t have to bring any toys. I just want you to help my Mommy learn to read. She feels so sad because she can’t read me bedtime stories. She makes up her own, and I still like them, but it makes her feel really sad.”

I held back tears, and I could tell Santa was feeling kind of down himself. He patted her knee, told her he’d try his best, and wished her a merry Christmas. I dropped my nephew off at home after he had a chance to visit with the jolly man and jumped on my laptop. Seeing the little girl earlier reminded me that I chose a career in nursing because I loved helping others. I didn’t love helping them by changing diapers and inserting IVs, but I genuinely cared about others and wanted to help them live good lives.

A New Beginning

After a few minutes of browsing, I found what I was looking for. There was a building next to my local college designed to help adults learn to read. The pay was very low, and the website admitted that many classes were cancelled due to a lack of employees.

Three years later, I no longer eat potato chips for dinner. I shower daily, and I don’t cry myself to sleep at night. My salary is low at the adult education center, but I supplement it by doing freelance work for medical websites. People often ask me if I feel like I wasted time attending college only to decide that I hated my major. My answer is always “No, it helped me appreciate the life I have even more.”

Life’s Good

I’m a mom now, and I read my son a bedtime story each night after I tuck him in. I fall asleep with a smile on my face because I know that I’ve helped several other moms and dads learn the skills that they need to be able to do the same thing for their kids. I’ve also helped an elderly man who lost his wife learn to read the Sunday paper on his own, as well as provided a middle-aged mom with the confidence she needed to break out of the restaurant business and apply for an office job. Life is wonderful, and I’m not being sarcastic this time.

This guest post was contributed by Missy Mallard. Many of Missy’s other articles are about her experiences with distance learning and navigating the numerous options to earn a degree online.

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