I had an extremely stressful senior year of high school, when I actually thought there was only ONE college in the WHOLE WORLD for me. I went to college loving math, but not knowing if I wanted to major in it. It seemed like it might be too hard. And I had trained myself not to try things that I might not be awesome at when it came to academics. I needed to be the best.
Then I got some ridiculous advice from an adviser at college: "You don't want to be a math major. Those classes are full of engineers who are really smart" (Read: you may not be smart enough to keep up). This person knew nothing about me, so of course I took his word for it.
Instead I decided to go into the business school, even though I had no interest in it. Second semester freshman year, a 300-student economics class taught by the most boring man in the history of men, plus a "Calculus for Business Majors" class effectively killed the business school for me. Thankfully, I hadn't wasted too much time. Especially in the econ class, which I went to two times.
But sophomore year was the year of my undoing. It started off with the unbelievable tragedy that was 9/11, which made me look at my priorities and doubt that I wanted to be so far away from my family. Then two more major switches, including one into the honors math program, where I took Calculus III and IV simultaneously to catch up with the other seven students in the program who were all brilliant. The most brilliant and intimidating one was a math genius from a local high school. I felt like a very small fish in a big pond.
The head of the honors math program somehow talked me into staying at school the next summer for a research opportunity. My family called it "math camp." It wasn't all bad. I got assigned a problem that no one had ever figured out (most likely because no one cared to), and I actually solved it. That made me feel good, but the rest of it made me think How did I get here? Why am I spending the summer in South Bend, Indiana, when my family is home in Connecticut?
I will never forget the moment when I had an idea that would change my life. I was taking a shower in my lonely dorm, and it just popped into my head. I don't have to do this! I don't have to come back here! I wanted to finish the summer program, because it was important to me that I didn't disappoint the people who were counting on me. But I did not have to go back to school in September. I needed a break. I was so tired. I didn't know if the honors math program was right for me. I missed my family. I didn't have to finish college in four years!
I could jump off the moving train, and make my own path for once in my life.
I anxiously told my parents my idea to take a semester off. They were worried about me, the star student who was finally admitting defeat. They probably wondered if I would be able to go back and finish after taking a break. But they were supportive and they did not give me a hard time about it. They trusted me. That was awesome.