From Economics to Film: One Who Dared to Switch

by Sandra Larson

A frustrated student

After several years of college, a frustrated student came into our Denver office "at an academic and emotional low." He had started out in computer science-a major that for him was a "dismal failure." At the time of testing, he was majoring in economics and earning passing grades but experiencing little satisfaction. "For lack of a definitive direction of my own, following a track that worked for my brother seemed logical," he says. "Since I was not 'emotionally attached' to this academic or career path, I put very little effort into achieving success. Therefore, my grades reflected my feelings and I received negative reinforcement for my choice of majors...I came in for testing three or four days after finals, which I knew had gone terribly."

Unused talents

The aptitude tests revealed that his studies were probably drawing on some mid-range aptitudes, but leaving his 99th percentile ideaphoria untapped. He also had aptitudes for organizing information logically and working with sound and design. In his discussion, he was given examples of fields that would call for his rapid flow of ideas: journalism, public relations, advertising, and teaching. Examples of graphic arts and design supervision addressed his design aptitude. The final suggestion-one that combined idea flow, design, sound and logical organizing-was film direction.

It was this last example that set his thoughts spinning. "I left the office walking ten feet taller than when I went in," he recalls. The testing profoundly affected his life. He changed course and went on to earn his BFA in cinema, receiving an "Excellence in the Arts" award in the process. He is now working happily and successfully as a free-lance film director, director of photography, and steadicam (a hand-held on-location camera) operator. In addition, he exercises his rapid idea flow one or two days a week as a teacher of cinematography at a local junior college. His work seems to fit his aptitudes neatly. "I now have a creative outlet for my high ideaphoria," he says. "Also, working with the pacing of films relates back to rhythm memory very well...I notice a lot of musicians work in this business." (This application of rhythm memory goes beyond the Foundation's research and understanding of the trait. It is an interesting new twist for an auditory aptitude.)

Hard work, no regrets

The change to a new field was not quick or easy. He took some time off from school and started from scratch. He bought a video camera and found an unpaid internship filming high school football games for a local cable television station. He began "reading everything I could get my hands on." He returned to school to study film, and eventually transferred from one school to another. When asked if he experienced any regret about taking the risk of changing midway through college, he answers with a resounding "NO!" He explains, "Once the decision to change was made-about two minutes after I left the Johnson O'Connor office!-there was no stopping me. Every new stage was an adventure and I relished all the hard work that went into it." It took him about a year and a half longer to get his degree than if he'd stayed on his original track.

Proud Parents

The student's parents are almost as thrilled by his success as he is. "He had been trying to follow in his brother's footsteps," says his mother, "and his self-esteem had been plummeting." The results of the testing confirmed that "he hadn't been a failure, he was just trying to do something he wasn't suited for."

Many parents would be more than a little worried if their teenager expressed a sudden desire to become a film director. The extra time in college and the expense of buying video equipment and transferring to a new school might cause them to advise against such a change. They might urge the student to keep going in his present major or at least to choose something more practical and stable. His mother admits, "If it weren't for the test results, we would have wondered if he was really serious about it." Now, she says, "He has really found his niche. It has made such a difference in his life." By her account, he ended up with nearly straight A's after being "on the verge of being asked to leave" earlier in college.

Advice for students seeking to change

While this student's route may not be for everyone, there are certainly many unhappy students who wish they could find a more satisfying course of study. They or their parents often express hesitation and fear at the idea of choosing a new major after two or more years of college. Our student, now successfully working in the film industry, offers some advice for budding film directors that could apply to anyone making a risky change. "You need to have an interest in the subject to begin with," he says. "I was always interested in film and television, long before I took the tests." He also emphasizes the value of hands-on practical experience, as he got in his cable television internship and in freelance projects while studying film. The practical experience gave him valuable skills in production, and also put him in contact with professionals who later provided him with important letters of recommendation.

Maybe you are in the process of rethinking your own course in school. Changing majors or careers is usually not an easy decision, and is rarely an easy process. It involves research of options, a willingness to take risks, and often extra time in school. In the case described here, the rewards were well worth the cost. He was frustrated enough to be more than ready for a change, and was equipped with new knowledge about himself and the courage to start over. He also had the support of his parents and a sensible plan of action that involved stepping back from school briefly and getting practical experience to help him judge whether his decision was the right one. With knowledge of your aptitudes, courage, and a plan, you too could be on your way from wishing you could make a change to actually doing it.