How I knew I wanted to become a mental health counselor

Zayn Singh smiling at the camera

My journey toward re-aligning with my sense of self. 

By Zayn Singh, Contributor 

This is not the story of a career change, but rather, the story of how I am returning to myself. Returning to oneself is inherently a process; it is a string of events that takes you through a journey. The process forces you not to focus on the destination, but rather where you are going, where you have been, and where you are right now. I don’t know what or who I want to be in 30 years. I don’t have goals or a career trajectory mapped out as others do. Rather, I have an image of being more myself that keeps me aligned to an outline of a path. And that outline is enough for me to trust that I am on my way. 

I trust that there are no such things as mistakes or bad decisions, because in the end, my past will serve me in growing into myself and serving the world around me. I am currently in the process of switching my career from being a cybersecurity analyst to a mental health counselor. 

The decision to switch careers wasn't easy, and I don't think it ever gets easier. 

Rather, I think what’s actually happening is that my attitude around what I’m meant to do and how I understand myself and my capabilities is changing. But that shift in perspective only came when the outline of the path became blurry. 

I distinctly remember the moment when I felt a pull towards my current trajectory. 

I had just read Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone right before the pandemic hit, and my partner and I were on headed to Hawaii to continue with our spring break. I remember feeling so uncertain about what the world was going to look like, to the point where a swell of anxiety bubbled up in my throat. Tears appeared in my eyes, and I was so distraught to see just how far from myself I had strayed. 

I realized that I wasn’t happy; I was waiting for someone else to tell me how I should live my life and who I should live it as. 

So, I decided to throw myself a line. Lori Gottlieb’s book made me take a more critical look at what I was doing and not just whether or not I was happy, but was I moving closer or further away from the essence of myself. 

When I was in college, I originally wanted to pursue a degree in English and Psychology. 

I thought I was going to become a therapist or work as a professor in a university setting. I had, and still have, a passion for writing, reading, and listening to words and stories. I was passionate about picking up books and honoring the story that someone had taken the time to write down, because it's a belief of mine that through stories we connect to the people around us. It’s an act of love to read someone else’s words and to write your own. I wanted to be around that everyday — and I wanted to create that for my students, my clients, and myself. 

I got to college, and all of a sudden, I was surrounded by  a swarm of people who had grown up in the Bay Area or were historically surrounded by Silicon Valley and the ever-growing population of tech companies. These students were getting incredibly high paying jobs as product designers, ux designers, product managers, software engineers, and programmers. I immediately felt less than. I thought to myself: I'm really screwed. I longed to be seen as legitimate and cool and smart. 

I wanted people to think that I was working hard and that I had a lot to give and a lot to offer. 

I wanted to be a part of what I viewed was this elite group of techies who were changing the world. So, I decided to change my major and pursue a degree in Computational Media, a mix between Computer Science and Media Studies. The program was a little less technical, but it was still fairly intensive in Computer Science, math, and logical ways of thinking. 

Soon, I was looking for an internship. 

My father connected me with someone who worked at Bank of America, and I agreed to talk to him. I explained what my major was, how it was creating a bridge for me to have the skills to create technology for humans by humans. Immediately, he said, “We need you in cybersecurity.” Cybersecurity is great for people who can communicate well, even if they aren’t necessarily the strongest programmers, because the industry needs people who understand humans and why they make certain decisions. Listening to him talk and hearing the passion drip from his voice persuaded me to apply for their Global Technology Summer Analyst program in their Information Security division.

As I progressed through my internship, and soon through my first year as a full-time employee, I discovered that I was not doing the things that I thought I would be doing. More importantly, I wasn’t enjoying the work and I found myself dreading logging into the office every day, wishing I was doing something else. My stress increased, my anxiety was skyrocketing, and I was terrified of losing my job due to poor performance. So I decided I was going to be serious about my transition into mental health counseling. 

I have begun my newest evolution: The process of returning to myself. 

The first thing I did was plan my escape from my corporate tech job and allow myself to return to my passion, knack, and curiosity for human emotions and stories. I immediately applied for my Master’s in Counseling and Psychology and was lucky enough to have my first choice of Northwestern University accept me into their well-acclaimed program. I'm in my second quarter of the Counseling program, and I’m loving it. Thus, 

This whole journey that I'm in the process of is not so much a career change but a coming back to myself. 

I've been realizing that I know things about myself, I understand myself. I understood who I was when I entered college and who I see myself as now. Life, itself, seems to be a series of moments in which I get to decide who I am and who I want to be. It is a constant cycle of evolution, a bit like reincarnation but without leaving the physical body. And I think that life is meant for us to learn how we become more of ourselves, how we reincarnate to become the versions of ourselves we desperately desire, and to strive to always be in the process. Because if not for the excitement of getting to where I want to go, then what is left except knowing how the book ends? For me, a book cannot be a book without the hunger to turn the page and discover more words to be devoured. 


About — Zayn Singh is a queer South Asian trans man from Chicago, IL. He is working towards a Master’s in Counseling to become a therapist for the LGBTQ community. Zayn believes in working to bring communities together by sharing his story. He currently lives in Chicago, IL working as a cyber security analyst with his many houseplants and ever growing collection of books and records. 

Cover photo credit: Zayn Singh, @zksingh 


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