(Sept. 5, 2002, Gazette)
remember the very first semester that I started university, one of my
friends planned out on paper each course she would have to do to for her
chosen degree and which term she would complete each in. I was amazed.
She was thoroughly organized, and absolutely sure that this was the path
she was going to follow. As I watched her write it all down, I thought,
that is too much information for me. Unlike my friend, I did not set down
the parameters of the next four years, in part because I did not know
which program I was going to be in. But more than that, I discovered something
about myself: I instinctively shy away from absolutes. Id like to
know there is leeway.
The idea that everything is planned and set up a certain way only serves
to make me want to do it slightly differently. Yet I am far from a rebel.
It tends to be small things that I have difficulty with. For example,
the very important and rightly emphasized writing of an essay outline.
For as long as I can remember, my preferred method of tackling such a
task was to simply sit down and write. Planning the essay in advance was
more tortuous than any actual essay-writing could be. Selecting sub-topics
and sub-sub-topics meant you had to know where you were going with the
essay before you even got there. I found it easier to create as I went.
While I didnt suffer academically for it, the outline most likely
does facilitate things in the end ... if you can do it!
Another reason I was mystified that my friend was already planning her
next four or five years was that she was thinking ahead that far ahead.
At the time, five years in the future to me was unfathomable. I thought,
I cannot plan for five years from now. What will I be like? What will
I want to do? It was too abstract. Undoubtedly my friend had a much better
grasp on time; she knew probably better than the rest of us how quickly
those years would pass, and that we would suddenly be where we hadnt
been able to picture. I admire this friend of mine tremendously. And although
I know I could never be like her, I am not a complete opposite of her.
I have been organizing my future academic plans for quite some time now;
and I am known to write spot-on to-do lists and efficiently assimilate
information and organize tasks. I know why people like to organize things
right down to the last detail. When you do have things planned out, you
get a little thrill; you now have given voice to what you want to do and
are now in total control. There is satisfaction from seeing your plans
progressing as you had envisaged. I enjoy seeing plans come to fruition
too. I simply do things a little less rigidly. I like to think there isnt
just one best way of doing something. Possibilities are very important
That is probably why I smile inwardly when asked Where would you
like to be in 10 years? Of course I know generally what I would
like to be doing: working with an international organization, whose principal
is implementing concrete, practical ways to aid others; traveling and
expanding my skills and interests. How I will get there though is yet
unwritten. I look forward to attending school again in order to be able
to compete in the post-graduate world. I love autumn and for me, rather
than spring, it symbolizes a fresh beginning. However, if you had asked
me five years ago, I most likely would have stared at you blankly when
you mentioned grad school.
And as you will likely hear, if you are just starting university, although
there are deadlines by which you should establish your main academic interests,
there is also no penalty for changing them as you go. Just as essay outlines
exist for a good reason, so do official recommendations for submitting
your chosen degree. I remember deciding on my undergraduate degree in
my second year (with a change in minor one year later). Quite a reasonable
time, actually. It just took me extra time to be convinced that the options
I chose were feasible and meaningful. Perhaps that is another matter:
making academic and career plans is easier for some because they never
question the appropriateness of their course of action. As
in the case of my friend, she was driven by what she wanted to do because
that was what she enjoyed, end of story. I on the other hand questioned
the legitimacy of completing a degree in a topic I really liked. Wasnt
that too easy a decision? Wasnt university always meant to be difficult?
Intellectually challenging, yes. Occasionally frustrating, of course.
Different degrees hold various requirements, some which may be not suited
to everyone. What is difficult for some is eagerly embraced by others.
Perhaps my friend was ahead of us all because she already knew that her
degree was the best for her, given her interests and strengths. When I
waited longer to chose a program, perhaps I was resisting acting according
to my own interests because I thought I was closing off possibilities.
Perhaps I would be better off doing something else? I have realized since
then thinking like that is simply not realistic. There is no end
once you have made a decision, no consummate plan that cannot be altered.
Possibilities do exist once you have committed yourself to a certain path:
in fact, they tend to flourish once you get more involved. Indeed, you
will flourish when you stop worrying about the something else.
Wonder about the future, but dont be afraid to act in the present:
strike a balance.