Many students come to Brandeis with a vague idea of what they want out of their time as an undergraduate, or even what they want out of their career after graduation, but many more come undecided. For a first-year student, not knowing what to do with your life is a common phenomenon. Some would even argue it’s the preferred attitude to enter college with. I believe that coming to college without a rigid plan for a career is a better path than having an overly defined path for yourself. But I’ve never been very good at practicing what I preach.
I came to college not with an array of ideas about what I would end up studying but a dogmatic and unbending idea of what I would end up doing with my life. If it’s too meta to talk about journalism and its merits in the opinion section of a newspaper, sue me. Surprisingly enough, I, a semi-regular writer for The Brandeis Hoot, wanted to be a journalist. I more than wanted it, I was set on it. I had a 20-year plan of what my life after college would look like and was even thinking about what newspapers I wanted to write for down the line. If you think that sounds like it doesn’t give a lot of room for exploration or growth in college, then you’re right. At the same time though, for many of our readers I’m willing to bet this sounds pretty familiar.
Enter the largest existential crisis of my life. There were a lot of things that led up to the realization that what I thought I wanted to do is not what I wanted anymore. What all of those things are, I don’t know for sure yet. I’m still processing why, but the what has become clear as glass. I realized not only that journalism isn’t something I want anymore, but that for most of my life the thing I wanted most was the one thing I systematically denied for myself as a real option.
For me that thing was music. It has been the most consistent thing in my life, and in a semester during which I’ve endured a lot of personal hardship, it was what I clung to. The other part of the crisis came from the realization that I may not be able to pursue what I want, how I want to pursue it in my current situation. Before that realization happened, however, I lost all sense of what I wanted out of my life. I had lost the thing that was so fundamental to what I thought I was and would be. That led me to questioning everything about my life. Was Brandeis the right place for me? What did I value here? Was college the right decision at all?
A lot of emotions fly when you lose your focus. No matter what point at which it becomes necessary, starting over is a scary concept. When you decide your situation is wrong, finding a new one can feel hopeless. It can feel so daunting that barreling down the path you are on to its logical conclusion can seem easier even if it is anything but what you want. The thoughts of “I can’t,” and “what if I fail?” and “who will I let down?” can become so loud in your head that even thinking about where you are becomes impossible, let alone where you want to be.
The biggest impediment in an existential crisis is yourself. You become your own worst enemy, and no one is harder on you than you are. We assume that because we have pointed ourselves in a direction we have to follow it to its conclusion, else we be labeled as a failure. But those around us aren’t the ones doing the labeling. The decision to view something as failure comes purely from us. The definition of an existential crisis is “a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether their life has any meaning, purpose or value.” When you hit that point, that spiral where on a foundational level you don’t know what you are anymore, logic goes to the wind. What I realized, and what I think is absolutely necessary for anyone in this position to realize, is that life doesn’t have to be logical. Fulfilling yourself and finding something meaningful is more important than doing something that “makes sense.”
Now that I’ve come to this realization, I have a lot of options to consider, which, despite the trepidation and despite the pressure, is a much better place to be than stuck on a path I don’t really want to pursue. As crazy as it sounds, I am truly thankful how early this crisis happened. College is the most dynamic time of your life. As a student, you undergo more personal change than you ever have before and for some people more than they will again in their lives. Crises happen. We get through them and we change when we need to. In the words of Oscar Wilde: “The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it.”