The Best Made Plans Oft Go Awry: A Guest Post By One Of The Best People I Know

This week, my blog has been taken over by a dear gem of a person: Christina Li. She has a blog here that talks about technology and communication, and if you’re looking for a post from me this week, you might just find that I’ve written a little ditty on texting over there as well.

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“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

I stared down this question on my school newspaper’s senior survey this year, momentarily dumbfounded. It was a question I’d so confidently answered over the course of months of college interviews. For the past few months, I’d been formulating my plans for the future, shaped by the interests I’d built up over my high school.

I was a humanities kid, I’d told myself. English, literature, and philosophy formed the backbone of my identity. I could go through the shelf of Academy books I’d read over the years, making my way up Orlando and Ceremony and Peoples’ History of the United States like rungs of a ladder, like echelons of intellectual development. I’d dreamed of studying English and then either working in the international development or politics, rebelling against my parents’ gentle, yet insistent suggestions for me to study medicine or engineering.

I was a humanities kid, I’d told myself. I loved English and history. I sucked at math and avoided science like it was an abomination. End of story.

I had things all planned out.

But yet when that survey question confronted me, I caught myself by surprise with my absolute and utter hesitation to put forth a concrete response. Well, come to think of it, I wasn’t that surprised. The week before, I’d spent two days on the campus of the college I was attending next fall, attending informational seminars and meeting students with inimitable talent and a diverse variety of interests. I’d come knowing exactly what I wanted to study, but over the course of those two days, I heard about subjects, potential majors, and interest that I’d never entertained before. Management science. Interdisciplinary studies between computer science and Japanese. Human biology with a focus on global health. For the first time, the plan I’d meticulously laid out for myself was no longer so certain.

At the very beginning of the year, we talked about stories in English class. We witnessed how easy it was for Tim O’Brien in The Things They Carried to create a compelling, believable narrative regardless of whether it was actually truthful or not. We read essays and articles on how the stories that we tell ourselves—the myths we align ourselves with—end up shaping the trajectories of the rest of our lives, superseding the possibility of change and flux.

Was I truly a humanities kid, with future aspirations in English and politics? Was that what I was going to structure the next four—and inevitably, next ten—years of my life around? How could I have subscribed to such a narrative so quickly and considered fixating on those subjects without exploring new areas of focus? Did I really “hate” math and science, or was I just trying to fit myself into a certain narrative? Come to think of it, my BC Calculus class, though incredibly challenging, turned out to be one of my favorite classes throughout my entire high school career. A subject from junior year Bio in the class inequalities that come with medical testing might have interested me enough to make me consider majoring in Human Biology. Instead of debating like I’d done throughout high school, I might try out for a choir. And—who knows?—I might even take a couple of computer science courses.

After a few minutes of deliberating on that survey question, I finally decided to declare myself undecided. But this topic doesn’t just extend to academics. This past year, we as seniors have constantly been telling cumulative stories about ourselves—stories about who we are and what we like and what subjects matter to us. Though we have a lot of material from the past 18 years of our lives—and though it is admirable to have one or two lifelong passions or traits that sustain one unwaveringly throughout an entire lifetime—it is also worthwhile to consider new possibilities and interests, especially in the novel environment of college. Ultimately, I think there is an incredible, inimitable bravery in being willing to look to the future instead of drawing on the past, and in being willing to be a tabula rasa—a blank slate—and start one’s story over again.

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2 thoughts on “The Best Made Plans Oft Go Awry: A Guest Post By One Of The Best People I Know

  1. Isabella K

    This was so powerful, Christina. The path I saw myself heading towards is pretty much the opposite of yours: I was primarily interested in STEM subjects and saw myself majoring in them in college. However, our wavering feelings of uncertainty are identical. That was one of the central reasons why I decided to join the Academy when I was an incoming freshman. I knew I would have opportunities to pursue STEM in college, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be able to get a good liberal arts education before that occurred. And I am so glad I joined! Like you, I found that classes like English and History offered me narratives that I had never considered. I found myself considering political developments throughout US history, or analyses of poems and short stories and wondering: are humanities and STEM really mutually exclusive? Can I major in both math and English literature, or biology and American history? We aren’t necessarily required to have a single narrative, and we shouldn’t create a narrative before we’ve allowed ourselves to experience everything.

    Like

  2. Maeve

    This was a really interesting and truly relatable blog post. I find myself questioning my future plans every now and then, wondering, do I want to pursue peace and justice because I’ve been expected to because of my mom and the Academy and STAND and is everything I’ve ever done just because I was doing something related to it somehow and I just kept getting deeper into a world I might not actually be meant for? Wow, there was a nice existential crisis for you…
    Anyway, I’ve noticed that we (students, particularly seniors) have been lured into making and committing to intricate plans just because it’s better to have an answer for people. The first question every senior is asked is “where are you going to college?” That’s followed by, “What do you want to study” and the questions just get deeper the more you answer them. I never wanted to attach myself to one dream school or plan because I knew if it was taken away, I’d be devastated. But as people kept asking and I didn’t want to explain my whole life story, I started to tell them about one school. And slowly, I believe that rhetoric started to affect me as I began to believe it and attach myself to that one place. That made it all the more heartbreaking when I wasn’t accepted. I wonder if I really felt that way about the school or if I had just made myself so in love with it because it was easier for the people around me.
    I hope you feel at peace with being undecided because it’s actually a good place to be. It means everything is open to you, whether it’s humanities or not. It means you get to follow what you feel, instead of your feelings following what you’ve said for yourself.

    Like

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