What happens when life doesn't go to plan

Publication date
Friday, 2 Dec 2016

When I first arrived at ANU, I had a clear idea of what I wanted from my future. Life was going to plan. I got the ATAR I needed, got into the degree I wanted at my first choice university, and was living where I wanted at a residential college on campus.

But what the 2014 me hadn’t yet learned was that sometimes life doesn’t go to plan, and sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen to you.

The 2014 me came to ANU to study a Bachelor of Psychology, to get nothing below a distinction, to get a PhD (immediately, of course, because there were no ‘long way rounds’ in my plan), and be ‘Dr. Johnstone’. But I hadn’t found out what exactly I was interested in doing after I finished with lectures, textbooks and research.

As time went on, I found myself disengaged with what I was studying. I found psychology interesting, but I couldn’t see myself ever practicing, nor did I have the interest I expected in doing my own research. Where did that leave me?

I had a plan, and I didn’t know how to begin deviating from it. If not psychology, then what? If I had no other plan, I should stick with the one I already had. 

I’d taken a science communication course in first year as an elective, and had enjoyed it more than any of my courses before or since, and decided to do a science communication minor as a result. But it was very far from my plan of a PhD and the hazy vision of academia/research that would follow, and I hadn’t considered it a viable career option.

With each passing semester however, I grew less and less motivated and more disenchanted with my degree. As this year progressed, particularly as family issues put life in perspective for me, I realised that pursuing a future in psychology wasn’t where I wanted to be. Science Communication had gone from an elective I didn’t expect to put much work into, to the only subject I was passionate about.

I battled with my outdated plan. If I changed my mind now, did that make me a quitter? I settled on a compromise. I would finish my undergrad in psychology, then do a masters in science communication.

But, I was a planner. So at the start of this semester, I went to get advice, map the rest of my degree and make sure science communication was a viable career option (because being unemployed was also not part of the plan). I was shocked to be presented with a new option- I could do a science degree with a double major in psychology and science communication. I could apply for many of the same jobs on graduating that I expected to do a masters to qualify for.

It was worlds away from the plan I came to ANU with. The 2014 me hadn’t even heard of science communication, let alone expected it to be the career I would pursue. I had to accept that my plan didn’t fit who I was or what I wanted anymore, and letting go of my plan is the best decision I’ve made. I’m motivated, passionate, engaged- All the things I planned to be in 2014 but hadn’t found.

What advice would I give the 2014 me? Forget the plan. Seize what you are most passionate about, and focus on that. Knowing you followed a plan won’t keep you happy in 20 years, and it certainly won’t make you happy right now.