In Defense of the Uncertain

As soon as you hit the milestone of high school, the rest of the world just assumes you have everything figured out. Suddenly every adult in existence follows almost any question (whether it's "How are you liking high school?" or "What would you like for dinner?") with one of the Big Three questions that also happen to be one of the biggest sources of stress in many teenagers' lives: "What college do you want to go to?" "What do you want to major in?" and most terrifyingly, "What do you want to do after college?" These questions may come easy to the rare breed of child who has been training for the Olympics since their time in the womb or started building robots since the time since they learned to talk, but in my case at least I can't hold on to an answer to any of these questions for more than a week.

The pressure these days is everywhere for kids to know what they want to do with their lives at increasingly young ages. It's as early as kindergarten that we begin answering the dreaded, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" (And ironically enough, I was far more certain then than I am now. If you ignore the eight-plus years of med school, grueling work schedule, and potentially emotionally taxing experiences that just don't sound right for me, then yes, brain surgeon really does sound like a good idea). As we get older, the pressure only increases; classes you choose your freshman year of high school have potential to impact what college you go to, and even by the end of middle school you're expected to have "found your passion" that will dictate your future. Colleges themselves aren't exactly helping with the anxiety, as they increasingly turn away "well-rounded" students in favor of those with an intense burning passion for something. And in the case of my dad, you'll get asked, "Please pass the potatoes, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?" on a biweekly basis.

But the fact is that most people don't end up doing what what they told their parents over dinner freshman year. As many as 80 percent of college students admit to still being uncertain about their major, and 50 percent change their major at least once and often two or three times. Even after college there is still room for change; 27 percent of graduates end up working in a field that isn't even related to the major they spent years stressing over. So why do we insist on branding it into teenager's heads that they must decide, right here and right now, what they want to do for basically all of their existence? I understand that planning things out does help you to have accomplishments and experience in your field. But what is the fun in life if every single second of your existence is planned out and spent working towards a goal that may change at any time?

I believe in the uncertain. I am a planner by nature, and like to book everything ahead of time, my iCal neatly color coordinated. But when it comes to the big things, I think it's perfectly acceptable to have time to try things out before committing. If you were to describe who am now to the person I was three years ago, I would think you're absolutely off your rocker; so why should I trust my foresight into 20, 10, even five years from now? Maybe it's naive of me to think that the universe is a kind place, but it is my firmest hope that if I work hard at whatever it is I am doing at the moment and always watch for when opportunity knocks, I will end up somewhere awesome, regardless of whether I'm a nuclear physicist or starving artist. So to answer my mother, father, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and random family friends I run into at the supermarket, I paraphrase John Lennon: when I grow up, I want to be happy.