You know when you’re struggling to make a big decision and you ask people for advice and they give you something along the lines of “trust your intuition”? Well, I’m convinced that some of us just don’t have this ‘intuition’ thing. And I am one of them. And here is the evidence:
The evolution of my grad school-related thoughts & ‘decisions’ over the course of a week:
Friday – Livin my life, no thoughts of grad school (still in the mindset that grad school would be a thing I’d deal with after I’d worked another year…a conclusion I’d settled firmly on several months ago).
Saturday – Someone mentions grad school. I start to question all my life plans. Start considering doing some last-minute applications to schools I thought of applying to before, like Sciences Po.
Sunday – End up talking to someone that went to Sciences Po and didn’t speak super highly of it. Decide in that instant that I would no longer apply to Sciences Po (which previously seemed like the most rational school to apply to). Realize that maybe I haven’t done enough real research into grad schools and it would be too hasty to just apply to random ones now.
Monday – Ask a colleague at what age she went to grad school. She was 23. Become instilled with horror at the fact that I’ll probably be super old if I wait until 25-26 to go. No one wants to be an oldie amongst youngsters. Frantically research my options for schools that night. Create a list of places to apply after googling ‘best grad schools to apply to’ in my subject. Suddenly remember that I don’t actually have $140,000 lying around (the cost for most of the schools). Hesitantly decide that this is reason enough to not apply at this very moment and that maybe working a bit more is the right thing after all.
Tuesday – Start realizing that a ton of people I know are in grad school or planning on going next year. Wonder what I’m doing with my life again. Start up a frantic search into scholarship options for various grad schools. Realize I’ve already missed a bunch of deadlines for scholarships. Except for Oxford University. Decide to apply to Oxford University (on the well-thought out basis that 1. Oxford sounds nice and 2. I didn’t miss its deadlines).
Wednesday – Ask 2 friends my age whether they planned on applying to grad school this year; they didn’t. Realize (again) that tons of people spend several years working before going to grad school. Start to question whether it is truly necessary for me to go right now. Decide to hold off on applying to Oxford (and the other random places I had settled on applying to mostly due to the fact that only applying to Oxford would be stupid). But then, realize that if I didn’t get a job next year, future-jobless-and-bored-me would be pissed off at present-me for being lazy and not applying to grad school when I had the chance…..
Anyways, the cycle doesn’t conclude, as it is still up in the air. But the moral of the story: I have no intuition when it comes to life plans. ‘Decisions’ for me are essentially gut reactions to the concerns/fears/uncertainties that arise whenever I compare myself to what people around me are doing (which is basically the opposite of intuition).
But besides the fact that I have no decision bone in my body, the other moral of this story is this: that I still haven’t managed to internalize the message I keep telling myself about jobs and grad school and other life-plan-related matters – that it truly doesn’t matter. Not as in making plans and trying to achieve your best and all that good stuff doesn’t matter, but as in, in the end of the day, these are just elements that should be part of a life purpose much bigger than any one plan or success or failure. If I truly believe that my purpose in life is to serve mankind, than how I do it (i.e. what job I have) is a trillion times less important than why I do it. In other words, it all comes down to the question: Who am I ultimately doing this for?
So, in the example of grad school, if the reason I am applying is so that I can work my way up in the career ladder, earn more money, achieve status, or simply just have something to do and not end up unemployed, than am I really working towards my ultimate goal? Or even if I do it because I think it will help put me in a better position to serve mankind, is that really a valid argument when service can take the form of simply loving another person and trying to bring happiness to their lives? And if I do end up jobless or going to grad school late or just completely lost in where I’m going, then couldn’t I still be engaged in something somewhere that is serving others or making some tiny part of the world a better place? And if I can, even if it is not through the methods I had envisioned for myself, then shouldn’t I be content with that?
The answer is yes. But I know I am still a ways away from living my life through such a lens. Especially when I take a deeper look at why the thought of being unemployed fills me with so much consternation. I’ve recently come to realize that this fear I carry – of becoming older, of not having “achieved” enough, of the possibility of being unemployed for any period of time – is extremely telling of how I derive mental stability and contentment. For as much as I’d like to think that I strive to align my life to this idea of service as the basis for everything I do, the fact that the thought of no longer working for the UN or living somewhere interesting brings me fear must mean that my underlying motivations are not as pure as I thought.
Even if my motivation is not to have status or money, the fact of the matter is: working for a prestigious institution inevitably does instill a sense of confidence and self-worth – which becomes all the more apparent following a period of essentially no self-worth. And as much as I know such attitude’s towards oneself should come from ‘within’ and from simply being a good person and doing good things, I haven’t exactly figured out how not to derive this confidence from external factors. So in this context, the fear of being jobless or not going to a fancy grad school is less a fear of not achieving material success, but more a fear of what I will come to think of myself – which inevitably ends up influencing what I am able to do for others. And I worry how much of my current contentment is based in the job I now hold and how much of my mental and emotional stability comes from the title I attach to my name.
Anyways, this is just an articulation of what I’ve noticed recently and how terrible and backwards it is but how, if I am to take a good honest look at my fears and why they exist, it is necessary to acknowledge the warped mindsets that create them in the first place. Hopefully that is at least one step towards changing them. And maybe, diving head-first into a world of joblessness, uncertainty, and ‘failure’ is just what I need to actually start living my life with a mindset wholly grounded in a pure and lofty purpose, and not a self-serving, falsely conceived sense of purpose.