Every Person Ever: What’s your major?
Me: I don’t have one.
Every Person Ever: What do you mean you don’t have one?
Me: Four words. I don’t have one.
Every Person Ever: (leaves confused and offended).
In college asking people what their major is like asking the weather question. It’s boring and you ask it when you have nothing else to say.
Every time I meet a new person I get asked this question. To make it more exciting, I give different answers every time and experiment with people’s reactions. I go from, “I don’t have one” to saying “I’m myself” or even “Majors are an imaginary social construct.”
The surprising thing is people cannot wrap their heads around my answer. From seriously confused to seriously angry. And I have no idea what causes that reaction. I have a hypothesis, and I’ll tell you in a bit. But before that, let me answer the question:
What’s my major?
Simple. I wanted to study engineering and tried that for almost two years but the college didn’t let me. Why? “I wasn’t strong enough.” Ok, thanks. At that point, I had taken a lot of math, physics, and computer science classes. I realized I enjoy math and computer science so I continue to take more of those classes.
“Ok, but what’s your major? What does your transcript say?”
My transcript doesn’t say anything because I don’t have one. I’m currently a sophomore and, sure, I’ll pick a major and will probably end up choosing a math-related major with the least required classes so I have more time to take interesting classes and work on interesting projects.
This breaks people’s software. They simply cannot understand. It’s like telling them they live in the simulation. Some refuse to believe it and get angry. While others think it’s outright stupid.
The major question gives us a peek at how the world works and how you can make the world work for you.
Everyone plays a game. Most play a game given to them. Few create their own games.
Creating your own games is similar to doing what you want: you create your own game with your own rules where you can only win.
Let me give you an example. Going to college and you get good grades to get a good job. This is a game given to you. You don’t decide the rules or whether it makes sense for you.
While you can be someone who creates a job for yourself with whatever you want to do. This could be from creating projects to starting companies. This will be hard to visualize because chances are you are not aware that creating your own game was even an option. It wasn’t an option for our parents or grandparents. That’s why I’ll give you a couple of examples.
Tim Urban from Wait But Why. He shares the story of how his grandma would always advise him to go to law school. He clearly didn’t want to but in his grandma’s eyes, it seemed like a good game to play with good money and good status. Tim, however, wanted to work on his writing project. He worked hard, and he made a job for himself where all he did was what he wanted: write.
Let me give you two more examples.
Derek Muller from Veritasium. He hated studying engineering but he finished it. He moved to Australia to study film but eventually enrolled in a physics Ph.D. He wanted to do film-making but he could not find a way. It was only until he started his YouTube channel that he started to get traction and after working really hard, he made a job for himself where all he did was what he wanted: film.
David Perell from Write of Passage. Growing up he didn’t like school and could never explore his learning obsessions. He went to college and it was the same. David found writing online to be a way to be excited about ideas and meet interesting people. He graduated and worked a couple of jobs and his writing started to get noticed. First, he started consulting but found a way better way, which was to create a writing school called Write of Passage. With Tiago Forte’s guidance, Will Mannon’s work ethic, and Tyler Cowen’s grant, David worked hard, and he made a job for himself where all he did was what he wanted: explore ideas through writing.
These three stories have many things in common like the internet as the medium, frustration about societal games, willingness to work hard, and excitement about creating their own games with their own rules.
What does this have to do with the major question?
Being rejected from engineering forced me to think again about what I wanted, what I enjoy doing, and what will do. That is creating my own games.
In high school, I didn’t want to play stupid GPA or standardized testing games so I didn’t. Instead, I created a few companies, read about 200 books, wrote a book, two TEDx Talks, spent my weekends in a particle accelerator, and followed my curiosity to do what I wanted.
I created my own games with my own rules where I could only win.
Creating your own games is the exit to mindless hyperspecialization in a globalized hypercompetitive world because once you create your game, you are the only contestant. You are competing against yourself, and yourself only.
“Ok, but what the hell is your major?”
As of now, I don’t have one. I’ll have to pick something if I want to graduate but until then, I’m the creator of my games through projects and following what I want, what I find exciting and interesting, and what calls my curiosity.
Update: I created my own major. It turned out there was a way to create your own major, so I did. Here's part of the backstory.
Thanks to Thomas Randall, Saguna Goel, Azul Wells, Chris Wong for reading drafts of this essay.
Other essays I’ve written about college:
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