We all came to the University being told the same thing: we are the future and can make a difference in the world. Somewhere between the clichéd graduations and stuffy convocations, we became convinced that we, “the leaders and the best,” would be able to do great things. We would spearhead the generation that cured cancer, decreased dependence on non-renewable resources and eradicated world hunger. We would do what no one had done before.

So, what are you doing now?

Reading this article, checking Facebook, debating whether or not to reply to the 50 pending e-mails in your inbox? Maybe you’re tweeting about how we’ll “beat the Irish” this weekend, or maybe you’re in the UGLi poring over structures that remind you less of aromatic hydrocarbons and more of Honeycomb cereal. You might be flipping through a $200 history textbook you’ll read less than half of this semester, or perhaps you’re analyzing a bottomless stack of readings on failed marketing strategies. Here’s the bottom line, though: you’re focusing so narrowly on what’s immediately in front you, without actually doing what you came to college to do.

Don’t get me wrong — most of what we spend time on every day in college is necessary and likely beneficial toward our futures. However, this “future” we so wistfully speak of doesn’t just start when we walk out of here, degrees in hand. It starts now. In fact, it’s already begun. So many of us get so caught up in the small details of the everyday that we lose sight of why we had such high ambitions to begin with. We forget the goals and dreams we wrote about in our college applications. Instead we obsess over tasks that, in the grand scheme, pale in comparison. And maybe occasionally, we’ll have those 3 a.m. conversations with our roommates on the problems of society, health care, the economy and politics — but before we know it, we’re back to the minutiae.

Sure, I’m as much of a hypocrite as anyone. I find contentment in picking out just the right words for these columns and I hope that at best someone might be inspired by what I say to do something. I let my brain pick apart the problems and leave the solutions in the hands of others. I, too, have fallen into the trap of thinking, writing, talking, analyzing — and not really doing. “Doing” doesn’t necessarily entail physical work, but rather means working toward those greater goals outside the scope of this campus.

College is inevitably a time for change. So many people discover their true passions during their time on campus, or realize exactly how they want to make their mark on the world. Those lightbulb moments when we find what we want to spend our lives really doing are incredible. But they shouldn’t just be random, occasional epiphanies. Those goals and ambitions should resonate in everything we do, every day. Even if you haven’t yet found that one thing that really gets you going, you still probably know which things you generally like or don’t like. Think about those things even through your mundane, everyday tasks. Truly do things with a purpose.

Determining how many units of unsaturation are in a molecule of cholesterol may seem like your whole world for now. But think about why it is you’re working out that problem. Are you genuinely interested in going deeper into organic chemistry in the future? Is the medical research you hope to do one day affected by these kinds of molecules? Will the ability to solve such problems help you in thinking through problems of a different variety in a different field? There are so many possible justifications for every little thing we do here. Find the one that speaks to you, and do that thing to the best of your ability with that purpose in mind.

Never lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s why we’re all here, and it’s what drives us all to make a difference in the world. Stop going through the motions of college and start doing.

Hema Karunakaram can be reached at khema@umich.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @HemaKarunakaram.

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