The F-Word We All Love and Hate

QOTD: What are your long-term goals, and how do you stay focused on them?

No, I’m not talking about that f-word. There’s another one I’m talking about, and lately this little f-word has gotten my heart pumping, the thoughts in my mind racing and my palms sweating. (It’s still not that one, you guys.)

The f-word I’m talking about is future.

As we think about the future, it’s easy to love when we know what it entails. We may not know where we will be in 10 years (alert: hallmark interview question), but if we’re on what seems to be the right pathway and love what we’re doing, then the future seems a bit more promising. But when we have absolutely no idea what our future holds, a fear develops inside of us. It’s frightening, not knowing what’s going to happen or if things will be okay. And what’s scariest of all is thinking that the things you are doing now are a waste of time and won’t help you get to the next step toward your goals.

There is a myth that you get used to college after the first few months… and, surely, by the middle of your sophomore year you’re a pro at this whole college scene. You know the sneakiest shortcuts for getting to class quickly, which days of the week Sitar is open at the dining hall and which bathroom stalls to avoid (i.e. bottom of Lenoir…you Tar Heels know what I’m talking about). You know what the dealio is. You get used to the independence, the resources, the expectations.

But the truth is, you never do. Maybe it’s just me, but college life is constantly unpredictable. You never know what’s thrown at you, no matter what year you are. I’m a sophomore, but sometimes I still feel like a freshman and don’t have any idea what’s going on in class, in Congress, in life. Only sometimes, though.

I was making small talk with one of the girls in my psychology class today, and we both agreed: We all have our freshman days. And that’s okay, because the best part about being a freshman is that you get to learn things you never knew, and you grow.

College isn’t like high school. During the first 18 years of most of our lives, the plan was laid out for us. Learn the ABC’s. Attend grade school and then get through those crazy middle school years. Live through childhood and stumble into adolescence. Experience high school. Sign up for AP classes because your mom told you to, go to prom, take the SAT and apply for college. Get into college. Graduate.

And then…and then what? Once you get into college, there’s not really a plan you follow along with everyone else. Sure, you’ve got your advisers and your parents and your friends to refer to for guidance, but essentially you are on your own. What you make of yourself is up to you, and that responsibility is terrifying. There are hundreds of majors, minors and classes–the possibilities are endless. The number of research opportunities and extracurricular activities available is mind-blowing, so much that sometimes we lose sight of our interests and our goals that we just ‘grab and take.’ In that way, it’s easy to lose focus about what really matters to us.

There’s pressure to be well-rounded and unique at the same time. There’s the need to find something you personally love to do, but will also fulfill society’s definition of ‘successful.’ Then comes the other f-word that we hate (we don’t love it, you know), which is failure. And I’m not going to even talk about this one because it tends to send shivers down one’s spine. And causes breakdowns.

The truth is, this whole week I have felt a little lost. I prioritized which extracurricular activities are most important to me, and figured out what internships I want to focus on for the summer. I discovered that I actually like statistics and research, and I have no freaking clue what to do with this information. Ultimately, I am deciding what I want to do with the rest of my college career and how my decisions will be time-efficient and beneficial for my future.

Basically, I’m striving for perfection – and I am failing. Since the beginning of August 2010, I have flirted with pre-medical studies, pharmacy school, biology, psychology, journalism, creative writing, journalism and finally both journalism and psychology. (I know, I’m such a player.) But now, the question is: What do I want to do with those majors? What fields do I want to concentrate within the area of journalism (Electronic media or Reporting? Design?), and what will my focus be in psychology (Child Development or Abnormal Psychology? Clinical therapy or research?). I don’t even want to start thinking about graduate school (or if I will be going at all).

I know I will make a lot of mistakes between now and the end of senior year. There will be peer pressure and other students in my fields of study who look like they know exactly what they’re doing. But I am beginning to realize that the key to success does not depend on comparison, but personal efficacy. If I believe in my passions and my ability to pursue them, whatever they may be, then I am already halfway there.

College is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, much like your first love or the publication of your first book. You never really get to experience that mixed rush of euphoria and confusion and excitement and fear all at once after it’s over. Whether you’re a freshman in college or smack in the middle of law school or a newbie in the corporate world, embrace the line of possibilities…all the better if you can’t see the end of that line.