03471_000_009It’s not just a question of deciding what to study. It’s part of figuring out who you want to be.
Melissa made her discovery as a freshman in college. Ryan made his while visiting Finland. For Blaine, the discovery started in his father’s welding shop. And for Charisse, it came as a result of competition with her older brother.
And just what did they discover? In simple terms, they figured out what they wanted to study. But in a larger sense, they discovered something even more significant, for they pictured their life’s work; they caught a glimpse of the person they would someday like to be.
Melissa, Ryan, Blaine, and Charisse are all students at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. For them, and others, the journey to discovery has at times seemed difficult. But the route they followed may offer you some direction if you’re in junior high or high school, looking to the future and the major decisions it can bring.
—“When I first came here, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be,” said Melissa Marley, age 19. “I knew school was important, but it got to a point where just going to classes was a real drag.” Then she read an article in the campus paper about a new program in floral design, and decided to see what it was like.
“Remember,” she said, smiling, “I had just come from Green River, Wyoming. Living in Wyoming, you don’t see too many exotic plants.”
Soon she was spending hour after hour in greenhouses and floral design labs, surrounded by bright colors, breathing in sweet-scented perfumes.
“Even at the grocery store, I’d wander over to the plant section and start naming all the plants. My friends would look at me like I was weird. But I absolutely loved studying plants. I didn’t want to do anything else.”
—As a high school student from Ashton, Idaho, Ryan Gardner, now 18, participated in a student exchange program.
“I spent a year in Finland. While I was there, I was constantly noticing furniture. I was amazed at how beautiful a simple thing like a chair could be. I fell in love with their textiles—there were so many wonderful fabrics. And it seemed like in every home there was some kind of beautiful glassware. The more I saw, the more fascinated I became.
“One family I lived with had completely remodeled their home, from the plumbing on out. They redid everything themselves. It was a small home, and what they did wasn’t anything that cost millions of dollars. But there was a simple elegance in how they tied everything together, from the kitchen to the stairs to the furniture. The result was beautiful.”
When he returned to the U.S., Ryan, who had previously thought about being an orthodontist, decided to major in interior design.
—“My dad runs a welding shop,” said Blaine Hill, 19, who hails from Burley, Idaho. “He was always building swing sets and monkey bars for the family, doing repairs and making things for people. I grew up with welding.”
But he had no idea that it was the sort of thing he could get a degree in.
“I imagined that when you went to college you’d have to major in something big, like being a doctor or a lawyer or something to make money. I thought welding was something you did in your spare time.”
Then in high school, he heard about a welding contest sponsored by Ricks. He entered it, and it changed his life.
“I won a scholarship, so I came here just to get a feel of what it would be like.”
Not only did he discover that “welding is what I’d like to do for the rest of my life,” he also found out that it’s a topic of study and research at a number of major universities.
Blaine is currently serving in the Oregon Portland Mission. When he returns, he’ll “probably go on to Arizona State University for a master’s degree in welding engineering and technology.” That program, like the associate degree program at Ricks, has a job placement approaching 100 percent.
—“In high school, my older brother Jerry and I were real rivals,” explained Charisse Wolflick, 19, from Bend, Oregon. “He was always smarter than me. Then he took a drafting class and had trouble with it. So I took the same class just to show him I could do better.”
“At first I wasn’t sure that I liked it, but as the semester went on, I found I just loved it. I’d go in at noon and spend extra time on my drafting. Any time that I had, that’s what I wanted to do.”
A faculty adviser at Ricks steered her into design drafting and introduced her to the world of computers. Now she designs things like car parts and machines.
“We study natural forces, like the power of water and air,” Charisse said. “It ties in with the gospel because you think, The Lord made the whole earth, and we’re learning how it operates.”
Melissa, Ryan, Blaine, and Charisse figured out what they wanted to study mostly by being alert. Their road to discovery was fairly direct. But for others, traveling the road to discovery has meant maneuvering around roadblocks and detours, perhaps even making a U-turn.
—The son of a newspaperman, 18-year-old Michael Bitton of Idaho Falls had studied journalism since high school. He had also dabbled in drama. He was amazed when he landed a role in a major production at Ricks.
“I started thinking, This came so easily, maybe I should be in theater!” Soon, however, he found he was spending too much time with the show.
“My grades went down. I was on a scholarship and lost it. I was fired from my job because I didn’t show up.”
He looks back philosophically.
“Maybe being fired was the best thing that could have happened to me,” he said. “I discovered that success in one area is relatively unimportant if the rest of your life is falling apart.”
Now he’s back in journalism, and feels “certain that it’s where I want to be.”
—Melanie Finch, 20, of Idaho Falls, “always wanted to be a nurse.” But after candy striping and a high school vocational program which earned her status as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant, Melanie switched to another field.
“In nursing, you have to associate with just about every kind of person in the world, and have compassion for them all. I found out that’s not always easy to do.”
A year later, however, she became a nursing student again.
“I did a lot of growing during that year,” she said. “I realized just how important it is to take care of people, even if it is hard and dirty. Now I’m dedicated to helping others. And I’m happy to know I’m helping people who really need the help.”
—Caroline Olsen, a 22-year-old interior design student from Brampton, Ontario, Canada, enjoyed her studies, but wondered if they were superficial.
“I started to feel like what I was doing was unimportant. I mean, why be a designer? Who does it help? “Then one of the faculty members sat down with me and said, ‘Carrie, the things you develop will help others. Our environment is the most important thing that surrounds us each day. It creates an atmosphere for our workplace or our family. If it’s a good environment, it will influence us to be better people.’
“All of a sudden I understood that what I was doing was important. Thanks to that teacher, I found out I was doing something good.”
For Michael, Melanie, and Caroline, part of the journey to discovery was figuring out they were already following a good route. That’s the same sort of discovery others made in a different way, by becoming interns. It’s a process that allows students to temporarily enter the working world before returning to the classroom.
—Kevin Leach, 20, from Sparks, Nevada, spent a summer as an emergency medical technician intern in Atlanta, Georgia. He was able to associate with a lot of other people in the medical field. He came to see that besides his EMT and paramedic training, a nursing degree would be important. Since returning, he’s taken the additional courses necessary, and will soon graduate with three degrees.
“I’m not only going to be able to be a paramedic out on the streets, but I’ll be able to be a nurse in the hospitals, to ride on Life Flights, to teach emergency medicine up to a certain point, and to move up into administration. What I discovered was that some extra work can open a lot of doors.”
—Michelle Beach, 19, worked for 10 weeks in a floral design shop in Darmstadt, West Germany, not far from where her father is stationed with the army.
“They really wanted me to learn, so they gave me a lot of opportunities,” she said. “I worked on displays, color selection, care and handling of flowers, just about everything they do in the shop, except that I don’t speak much German, so I didn’t have much interaction with the customers.”
She studied firsthand the similarities and differences between German and American business practices, and between European and American floral designs.
“I learned that running a shop is not an easy thing to do. But it’s an opportunity to use your talents and work hard. And,” she said, “I found out that it’s really what I’m interested in.”
Through their internships, both Kevin and Michelle discovered something critical. They found that education doesn’t end when you leave the classroom. Learning is a lifelong pursuit.
That’s a topic Bart and Annette Heiner like to discuss, too. After all, they met in school.
—Annette describes herself as an “outdoorsy person,” a tomboy who was happy riding dirt bikes but not comfortable in the kitchen. It didn’t bother her at all to be the only girl in a welding class.
“When I first came here, my intentions were to graduate from Ricks, go on to Utah State University and graduate as a welding engineer, then to work.”
Bart grew up on a farm in Star Valley, Wyoming.
“I was always interested in industrial arts, particularly welding,” he said. He was also “kind of shy,” and only asked Annette for a date after prodding by an instructor who had them both in his class.
A friendship developed. Bart and Annette enjoyed doing things together.
“Then,” Annette said, “one time on the way home he started naming all these talents he wanted his wife to have—sewing, cooking, playing the piano—all these abilities I didn’t have. I said, Well, that’s it. I’ll never see him again. But by the time we got home, I’d forgotten about it, and we kept on dating.”
Soon they were married in the Idaho Falls Temple, and just recently their first child, Zachary, was born.
“Since then, I’ve discovered something,” Annette admits. “With a baby, every day you’re learning. I still enjoy outdoorsy things, and I still enjoy welding. But now I can hardly wait to graduate, so I can stay home and take care of our son.”
As students discovering a lot of things about welding, Bart and Annette made another major discovery—each other.
“And we learned there is something more important than anything else we want to be,” Bart said. “We want to be an eternal family.”
Yes, it involves figuring out what to study. But it’s also more, much more. It begins as an awakening of curiosity, a finding of direction and purpose, an uncovering of natural talents and affinities. It blossoms into a growing knowledge of who we are and what we can do.
In fact, as these students at Ricks College are learning, finding out who you are is much more than an academic pursuit. It’s part of a lifelong discovery charted by our Father in Heaven—that we are his children, each blessed with unique abilities, and that if we will pursue them, he will magnify our skills.
If You’re Searching
Here are some tips to guide you along your road to discovery:
—Remember Heavenly Father knows you better than anyone. Pray. Get a patriarchal blessing. Study the scriptures. You’ll find that he can guide you to a great understanding of who you are and what you can be.
—It’s hard to feel inspired if you aren’t living right. If you need to, repent. Then the inspiration can be unrestrained.
—There may be many things you could successfully do. It may not be as important what you do as that you are honorable in doing it.
—You’ll spend a lot of time at work. Look for a career that will allow you to employ skills you enjoy using every day.
—Those who have discovered what they really want to do rarely talk about grades or money. They talk about how much they enjoy their work.
—Sometimes you have to try something to know it isn’t right for you. Chalk it up to experience. It can be a great discovery to know what you’re not interested in, too.
—Study lots of things. The more you become familiar with, the better chance you have of discovering what you really want to be. Take advantage of general education programs. If you’re at a Church school, attend forums and devotionals.
—Remember that a full-time mission, in addition to being a great opportunity to serve, is also an opportunity to learn and grow. A mission can be an education all by itself.
—Anything you truly learn will stay with you, through the eternities. (See D&C 130:18–19.)