What next?

This is one of those times where I just feel like I need to write. Just something. I found out a friend of mine passed away this weekend. I hadn’t known him very long and had only really conversed with him on a few occasions, but from just the few times I had been with him, I could tell just how kind and passionate he was. I had gone to help out at children’s classes with him and some other Baha’is a few times, and all the kids would run out from the homes as soon as they found out he had arrived. They loved him. And it was clear why. I remember sitting in the car with him when he was describing his dreams to start his own business, pursue his art, basically just follow his dreams and do something that would make a difference in the world. I remember being in awe at the way he told his vision and all of the plans he had. He was a clear leader. I couldn’t help but smile to myself when seeing the way his younger friend whom he brought along to children’s classes looked up to him and clearly strove to be more like him. Or the way he encouraged his younger friend to engage in the kinds of activities and discussions that centered around the betterment of the world. I cannot pretend to have known him very well, and almost feel disrespectful to write about him as though I did, but the fact is, in the short time I spent with him and the few conversations we had, I just remember feeling inspired. I sincerely wish I had gotten to know him better, and a part of me feels guilt for the fact that I could have seen more of him if I hadn’t stopped going to children’s classes to study for the GRE. But everything happens for a reason, and I am happy I at least had the chance to know him.

And it’s also served as a jarring reminder of how short life is and what really matters; and even more than that, how easy it is to waste time working towards the things that you think matter, when really, every minute should be spent doing those things. I’ve been spending the past month stressing about studying for the GRE, thinking it necessary to cut out all other things during this time for the sake of doing well on a test in order to get into a good grad school in order to get a good job in order to finally be in the best position possible to help people through whatever work I end up doing. But there is something so ironically wrong about all of it. If the ultimate purpose of doing any of this is to be able to help people, then why would I halt the activities in my life that were actually working towards the good of others, in order to put all my energy into this one test. And while it may be justified in some sense (the more you study, the better you do), I also realized that this mentality could easily go on forever. And in fact, has been going on for quite some time. Senior year of college was by far the worst year of my life. And a good part of it probably had to do with all of the focus I poured into working hard, studying, and applying to fellowships, all so that I could make something useful of my life after college.

And then I got this fellowship. The perfect embodiment of everything I’d been working towards. But then a few months in, I found myself asking the same question I had asked all of senior year, “what next?” Leading me to the sudden, poorly-thought out conclusion that grad school was the answer. But now, after actually taking a minute to think about why it is I am actually doing this (and how I could even feasibly afford to do it), I’ve realized the underlying reason is fear. Fear of being broke, fear of being unhelpful, fear of being not busy, fear of not doing something useful. But there is clearly this huge divide in my mind, no matter how much I talk about how important it is to live one unified, undivided life, between my purpose in life and what I actually do in life. My purpose is to help people. And I’ve realized it’s possible to be selfish even while working at a job whose primary purpose is to help people. If I really focused on my one simple life purpose, I wouldn’t feel so much pressure to constantly make something more of myself.

So now, I just don’t know what I’m doing anymore. After doing further research into ways to fund grad school, I’ve finally realized it’s the most absurd decision ever. (Like do people actually pursue master’s accepting the fact that they’ll be $50,000 in debt when they leave?….) And I’ve also realized, I shouldn’t care. Life is so short. The impact you make in the world has nothing to do with whether you’ve attended a fancy university. And if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you can spend your entire life putting the important things on hold while you spend all your time preparing and planning for the future. It just needs to stop. At this point, I honestly might be broke next year, living somewhere awful, doing something uninteresting, or worse, doing nothing at all, but even in the absolute worst case scenario, I can always find some way to do what actually matters: helping people. I think I just need to remember this more often.

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