The malaise of future careers

| Staff Columnist

(Becky Zhao | Student Life)

When I was applying to colleges, I had no idea what major I would choose. One of the most appealing aspects of Washington University was its flexibility; there were loose core requirements, leaving room for me to explore different subjects before deciding what I wanted to do with my life. The flexibility was especially attractive because I was still clueless about what direction I would take, aside from avoiding pre-med at all costs. The deadline to declare a major—sophomore year—seemed vague and distant, and hardly even worthy of consideration yet. I eagerly signed up for classes in a healthy variety of subjects: anthropology, psychology, literature, political science, legal studies, international and area studies, and music. No need to specialize; I was milking my liberal arts education for all it was worth.

At an extended family gathering last week, however, I discovered that indecision tends to be synonymous with a lack of motivation. My uncle smirked when I explained that I was still unsure about my major. “For all that money, you better figure it out pretty fast,” he told me.

Immediately, the object of my panic switched from an upcoming anthropology exam to my hazy future. I had no plan, no career path lined up. What in the world did I think I was going to accomplish by spreading my courses across eight different disciplines?

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To make matters worse, it seemed like all the people around me had already mapped out their careers. One friend had lined up double majors in biology and music, followed by medical school and a stint as a military doctor. Another would be a political science major, head to law school and then prosecute domestic violence cases. Another would be a finance major, head to Wall Street and get rich. Hey, at least he had a plan.

So without a chosen major and subsequent career lined up, I decided that I must be destined for failure and destitution. I panicked. I panicked throughout my anthropology class, my literature class and my international politics class. I panicked through lunch, through studying in the library and through an episode of “Weeds.” I panicked all the way to Writing 1, where I was assigned 10 minutes of free-writing.

As the only core class required by the University, Writing I had always seemed like more of a chore than anything else. I resented the class on principle because I hadn’t chosen to enroll in it. That day, however, I was too busy panicking to be bothered by principles.

As I stared down at the blank sheet of notebook paper, I wondered why the University would require this class. How would 10 minutes of free-writing address my future? Or lack thereof?

So before I started panicking again, I started to write. I wrote about the first images that came to mind, and then the images that followed. I wrote about what I saw in my head, and then what I wanted to see. I wrote about the then and the now, today and tomorrow.

After 10 minutes, I hadn’t written a masterpiece. I hadn’t written much at all. I hadn’t figured out my future. I hadn’t lined up a career path or picked a major or even narrowed my interests. After 10 minutes, my notebook page was barely half full. But after 10 minutes, I was still writing.

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