I haven’t sat in a class like this in almost a year. One of my professors is talking in the front of the classroom about something — I’m listening to his voice but he’s talking too fast for me to follow. The lights in the room are dull but loud, nurturing a slight whining noise in my ears.
I actually like this setting: the familiar musty smell of an old building, the act of sitting next to strangers and the faint noise of the fluorescents. Even though none of these things are enjoyable by themselves, I like it because it makes me feel normal, as if school is finally becoming what I expect and remember it to be.
As much as I enjoy the normalcy of it all, I can’t help but feel a little uneasy spending all of my effort trying to understand what people are saying. We started syllabus week in some of my classes by going around and introducing ourselves: year, major, hobbies. Most people are sure of themselves — they’ve decided on what they will focus on, a decision that will tell them how to navigate the rest of their years here as well as help them make plans about their post-university future.
I’m still a little confused, though. Not about college in general — I feel like I’ve been here long enough to be able to outline what is going on socially and academically — but about my future. Last year, when I entered the University as an undeclared freshman, my advisor encouraged me to think about what I wanted to do in the future and reflect on what I enjoyed in the present. I listened to her advice and even followed it, but I struggled to engage when I asked myself about my future and even my likes and dislikes.
It seems a little pathetic to admit I hardly know what I enjoy and what I don’t. Do I like this because I am actually interested in it, or is it just easy? Is this actually easy or did they just grade easily? Am I actually good at this at all? What if I get to the higher levels and start to hate it? But do I even have to like it at all as long as it pays my bills?
I’m paying tuition and striving toward a degree, but so far I have no idea what I’d like that degree to say. I’ve always been indecisive — sometimes I close UberEats because I’m too overwhelmed by the number of choices I have — and a part of me feels like my time is starting to run out. I have to declare by the end of next semester, but I am as lost as I was in freshman year.
My major and my future plans come up often at my family dinner table or during family FaceTimes. When I click on the group call notification, I prepare myself to hear the question: So did you decide what you’re going to do? I’ve never been able to form a concrete response to this; the questions of the future still seem so far even as they draw nearer. I am the type of person who takes things as they come, someone who doesn’t necessarily plan ahead. Even writing follows that process for me — I never know what my endpoint is, but my words figure themselves out along the way and everything eventually turns out to be passable. I am waiting for the pieces of my life to fit together in the way that these sentences do so that I can eventually reach some epiphany, some sort of push towards figuring out what I want for myself. “I’ll figure it out eventually,” has always been my motto, because things usually do align properly for me eventually. But the truth is that I want too many things and sometimes see too many possibilities, obfuscating the goals that I am searching for until I am completely overwhelmed by them.
It’s not just the possibilities that are so unnerving to me, but also the uncertainties that they all carry. I wish I could watch all of my possible futures and then choose which one suits me best, like reading the walkthrough for a video game. Should I follow my love of writing? Biology? Academia? I can’t ask Google what choices I should make to create the best ending of my life. We’re all oblivious to the future, but sometimes I feel like I’m unaware of my own thoughts.
Worrying about the future and its ambiguities obviously won’t go away once I decide what I want to pursue academically. My indecision won’t, either. And yet, that task of narrowing things down feels so integral to my ideas of the future. I know, technically, that I can always change my mind and that I can choose so many different things for myself after my years here are over. I know that I’m still young and that I have time to explore the world, myself and my interests. But the things that I know to be true can’t change the way that I feel right now. My logic is betraying me. In the long run, time isn’t running out but in the present, time is slipping away. Though I have a whole life ahead of me, I only have two years of college left. I can’t exactly imagine a life outside of the structure of academia, so it feels like there are only two years left to figure my life out.
My anxiety about timing should push me to try to discover what I want from myself, but every time I look inward I get stuck in the same positive feedback loop of knowing I need to think about my options, worrying about the consequences of making the wrong choice and then shutting down out of sheer worry and frustration. I’ll enter my normal and easy-going state until something flips the switch on the anxiety again: a question from one of my family members, my friends talking about their research, mentions of LinkedIn connections. I feel so utterly behind from the rest of my peers mostly because many of them seem to have everything planned out.
I’m told by my family that I need to take a more active role and start to push outwards instead of reflecting inwards towards myself, which is what I usually do when I’m confused. But even that leaves me at a loss. Push out towards what exactly? If I knew, I wonder if I would second-guess myself out of the answer.
MiC Columnist Safura Syed can be reached at email@example.com.