Follow Your Yellow Brick Road

When did college change from spending four years of exploration to years of training for your first job?

When did High School change from “the best years of our lives” - ones filled with trials and errors - years of growth and change - to years of choosing only things that will look good on a college application?

When I stepped foot on Syracuse’s campus in September of 1986 (yes I am aging myself) - GO ORANGE - I had it all planned out. I was going to major in Retail Marketing. Yup, you read that right - Retail Marketing - I was going to graduate from college and work in retail. Not that there is anything wrong with that - I know some very successful people in the field - I just quickly learned that the major did not suit my personality. Why do you ask? I HATE SHOPPING - always have, always will. Which begs the question, why did I choose that major?

Who knows? Was it that I told someone I did not know what I wanted to do and they said, well you have always worked in retail, so go major in it? Was it that no one asked me about my strengths and weaknesses, things I liked to learn about? Was it that someone told me that studying retail management would guarantee me a job upon graduation? I honestly don’t remember; all I know is that on my first day of classes I walked into the Hall of Languages to take Retail Marketing 101 and knew I had not chosen the right course of study.

As part of my core classes, I took a sociology class and loved it - I loved everything about it. After long conversations with my parents about what I would do with a degree in sociology - which at the time I had no clue - I blurted out - go to Law School - and hence they supported my decision.

Clearly, that did not happen. Senior year I did apply to (10) law schools - got into a few - was waitlisted at one and denied from most. I weighed my options and was all set to choose one of the three I was accepted to. One April morning, I woke up and called my father and said, “You want to go to law school, not me. I don’t want to be a lawyer, and in fact, I don’t know what I want to do.” That was the hardest and best decision I think I ever made.

In the fall of 1983, the year I started high school, I could have never imagined that in the fall of 2019 I would be entering my 18th year of tutoring students and advising them on the college process. How could I? I didn’t know what I did not know. My route here was far from straight; I followed the yellow brick road, which finally brought me back to my core (even if I didn’t know it at the time.)

After graduation, I worked in real estate, decided to go back to school for my MSW, worked for the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia for several years before finding what I thought was my calling at Bentley University working in the Dean of Student Affairs office. It was there that I fell in love with advising students and working with student-athletes - leading me to get my degree in education - which then led to my first job at a high school - which leads me to where I am today.

As my daughter entered her first year at college, she asked me what she should major in. I simply said dabble. Try things, say yes to things, be curious. You will find your path, even if it takes several or even many years with multiple attempts. I reminded her that she may hit a few detours along the way, but she could learn something at each roadblock and move on. And as my high school Sophomore scrutinizes of what her course load should be for the next two years, or what she should be doing for extracurriculars - I remind her to it doesn't matter as long as she is exploring and growing - learning about things that she likes and does not like; and no she does not need to stick with something she has been doing for years just because and yes even though she has not taken music lessons since she was 6 she can start piano lessons.

I love my job, I love the path that got me here - I genuinely do - and guess what? I still HATE SHOPPING!

Eydie Balsam


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