“It used to be fun in high school, but I just think it’s time to change.”
“I think I could be happier taking a different class.”
A friend of mine who came to Yale very passionate about being premed recently decided against it. She doesn’t want to “waste her life” studying medicine until she’s 28. She doesn’t want to miss out on the college experience. She thinks chemistry is too hard, she hates her 9 a.m. classes and, most importantly, she explains that there are so many alternatives that she doesn’t see why she should bother with something she no longer likes.
Her story isn’t extraordinary. And neither is it unreasonable. At Yale, we change our minds and leave behind things that we don’t find intellectually gripping. In fact, this is what we’re encouraged to do. It’s what I was told, in no uncertain terms, during a freshman orientation facilitated by my residential college dean: Venture out! Do things you haven’t done before and get a taste of the disciplines you haven’t studied before.
But do the endless possibilities offered here at Yale make it somewhat easier to give up on the dreams of the past? Perhaps.
I still do not know what I will choose as my major, and the thought of doing something that might make me unhappy scares me. We’re told to love what we do, so it seems easiest to quickly abandon subjects that don’t inspire immediate enthusiasm. I want to do something that makes me want to get out of bed every morning (even in this New England winter). And I am tempted to dismiss things that don’t. I think this is a phenomenon that applies to many Yalies.
Steve Jobs, in his commencement address at Stanford University, encouraged the graduating class to “stay hungry, stay foolish and not settle.” But I know I don’t want to be hungry and foolish forever. At a certain point, I do want to settle down. I can’t remain dancing on the line between discovering and knowing; I only have four years.
I think sometimes we spread ourselves thin trying to discover our passions. Some of us take shopping period too literally — we shop thirty classes, and if one doesn’t immediately appeal to us, we walk out, not giving ourselves the opportunity to be taken by surprise. Ultimately, it is probably preferable to stick with one discipline and develop an expertise in it than to wander around like a hopeless romantic searching for “the happily ever after subject.” After all, there will always be that particularly hard problem set or unpleasant midterm that makes us challenge our faith in our own intelligence. We begin to look longingly at that seemingly more attractive art history or statistics course that seems easier to fall in love with.
We all harbor some fantasies about moments of epiphany when we will suddenly know, completely and certainly, what it is that we want to do. But that moment of epiphany may never come. The love we have been so desperately seeking may be hidden beneath the pages of the mundane texts we have been mindlessly flipping through.
My brother, a doctoral student, gave me one piece of advice before I came to Yale: “Don’t be too much of a scatterbrain.” In the midst of all of the advice I was given, I never really reflected on his words, but I think he was telling me not to abandon subjects too quickly. In high school, I was young and restless. At Yale, it may be time to change.
Gayatri Sabharwal is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.