It’s 2:37 p.m., hot and humid! After almost four hours of classes, I am exhausted. Nothing like good old economics and programming to cool you down in typical New England September weather (sigh). I retreat to my room and slowly sink my body into my comfy bed to take a much needed power nap. While staring at the ceiling, I ask myself, “What does it all really mean?” Yes, such a generic question is indeed profound. What is life? Why are we alive? What will we accomplish? Having started my first semester of college, these questions that lay dormant in my mind have come to life. Every single day of my life on campus is a reminder of the fact that I am no longer in high school. All of a sudden, I am responsible for every single aspect of my life. Schedule it! Attend it! Plan it! The list of verbs goes on and on! Anyways, I’m an adult so I can handle it. Wait, what? I’m an adult already?
With almost every new person I meet, I end up in a conversation about prospective career paths. Pre-med, engineering, computer science, writing, film studies, economics – I have heard it all! These people, they all seem so sure of what they want to do (at least I think they do). Why am I not as sure as they are (that is if I’m sure at all)? I mean, it’s really simple, right? Just find something you are passionate about, major in it and get a job! Well, I love computers. I like chemistry. Economics and math really get my juices going. I enjoy writing. I find 20th century history fascinating, and I am passionate about seeing my country (Zimbabwe) made whole again. Now tell me, what should I major in?
The scariest part about not knowing exactly what you want to do in life is when everyone else seems to have it all figured out. Look at Mark Zuckerberg: he definitely knew what he was going to do with his life, so sure he dropped out of Harvard! Fine, Mark isn’t a typical example. But what about my hallmate who, in the middle of the Republican Presidential Debate, tells us that the studio managers flashed blue light on the screen instead of the usual Republican red because the color blue stimulates receptors in our eyes hence making the audience less prone to fall asleep? He is a pre-med student, case closed! I wish it was that apparent in my case. Whenever someone asks me which classes I’m taking (calculus, programming, economics and chemistry), they go on to ask me, “So what do you really want to do?” I smile and say, “Computer science and math!” But I’m really not as sure as I sound.
In my own analysis, the reason why knowing what I want to do in life isn’t so clear-cut is that I still have underlying questions as to whether my choice of a career will lead to a successful life. Those questions remain unanswered because I struggle with my personal definition of success. Is success (for me) a high paying job? Is it a big and beautiful, happy family? Is it happiness? Is it recognition or is it fulfillment of my dreams and passions? Even if I were to attain my “personal” success, would the world view me as a success? It seems that part of the cause of my conundrum is my tendency to look over my shoulder from time to time. If that is true, then I have to look over my shoulder again to find a solution.
There are myriad examples of people (older than myself) who are “successful.” I know of a special woman who, from her office in the capital city of Zimbabwe, has helped thousands of people (myself included) realize just how possible their “impossible” dreams are. Most of those people (myself included) studied/are studying in the United States. Her intelligence, foresight and compassion are nothing short of inspirational. This woman is successful because she has a very demanding job but seems to work harder at it everyday (willingly) and she is more than happy doing it. For her, success is being a proud advisor, educator, activist, family woman and Arsenal fan. After analyzing the brief history I know about her in order to solve my own dilemma, I learned two things.
First, a major from college and even graduate and doctoral degrees can never fully define who you are as a person – your interests, your abilities, your passions, your character and your drive. This woman has many incredible talents that she does not possess or use solely because of her academics. There is no Kindness 101, Focus 121, or Motivational Speech 307 in college or grad school! Academics are just the opening paragraph in the infinitely long essay that is your life! You are not alive solely for the purpose of acquiring and propagating knowledge, but to inspire fresh perspectives that will change the world indefinitely.
And second, success is not like an award but more like the oxygen we breathe in, because an award is something that we are given by our family, friends and colleagues, yet oxygen is something that we take on our own and is infinitely abundant. This woman does not wait for society to give her ‘awards’ to recognize her success because she defines success for herself by the things she loves and is passionate about. For her, ‘personal’ success is success! When it comes to success, just make sure that the person who looks back at you every morning in the mirror is convinced that you are successful (and happy). Fine, it’s nice to get approval from the people around you, but at the end of the day, you are the only one who has to confront your conscience every night when you go to bed, and you really can’t lie to yourself.
My major will never be a combination of ALL my interests and abilities. It is, however, a stepping stone to better equip me to apply myself to the fullest when I get out into the world. In light of this, I say: go to college, learn new things, discover new people and discover yourself. The future is bright, just don’t dim it by worrying about it too much!
Chitena is a member of the Class of 2019.