Over the summer, I scribbled a chart. A diagram. A plan of my sophomore year, and maybe more. Gripping a blue gel pen I picked up for less than half a dollar at a Bangkok subway station, I proceeded to etch the pages of my frayed cardboard-like notebook with small cursive letters — my optimistic life proposal.
I wrote BIG PLANS in large block letters. Underlined it twice. Drew four lines stemming from this lofty title. Each distinct route to embark on with its own major, club and obstacles. I’m not a fickle person, but I currently have many interests and no single entity that makes me tick. The blue ink continued to flow, coalescing into little square boxes for introductory courses to be checked off.
This scheme would have been fine, except that its real-world application meant that my schedule consisted only of introductory lectures. It didn’t stay that way, but the five courses I settled with are in five different departments.
When talking to friends, strangers and in-betweens about my finalized fall schedule, I hear a lot of, “That’s the spirit of a liberal arts education!” or, “Wow, how diverse!” While I appreciate the positivity, I also had this dreadful feeling that I was doing college wrong. I already took the liberty of exploration last year — I dabbled in some introductory microeconomics, a psychology course, graphic design, some statistics and knocked out math and english prerequisites. But as I listed out potential majors as a sophomore, I felt like a first year again. Functionally, I might as well have been.
In the months before I left for Yale, a family friend’s sister, a girl in her early 20s, gave me a gift. It was a book called “Excellent Sheep,” by William Deresiewicz, a former Yale English professor. I didn’t open it until the end of this summer, a year late. Deresiewicz makes an argument that we hear quite often on campus. He argues that our educational system is broken since, rather than producing individuals who have been “liberated” in the sense of a liberal arts education, it produces corporate managers who have lost a sense of purpose and the ability to think critically — otherwise known as “selling out” on campus.
There was one very poignant metaphor that compared students at elite universities to undifferentiated stem cells. We want to prolong our state of potentiality, our state of being able to do anything, to be anything. Our refusal to make decisions is inextricably linked to our fear of closing doors. This struck me because it felt so applicable. I am a student with “diverse interests” but also a 19 year old afraid to decide and commit.
I tend to overthink, and after a few semesters on campus, I can tell that a lot of Yalies do too. We don’t like making decisions. Economics majors might argue that we’re just analyzing the opportunity costs. Fair, but decisions are made on a daily basis. We are pressured by external forces like the deadlines set by our institution, professors or clubs. If not for the $50 fine, I wouldn’t have submitted my course schedule by 5 p.m. on Sept. 10 or even on Sept. 20th.
But life doesn’t have a big due date to push you to decide. Some might see the end of sophomore year as the time to choose our majors and graduation as the time to know our career path. But it’s not a hard and fast rule. We change our minds. We are never going to be able to plan every step of our path in life. If we want to truly make a well-thought out decision for ourselves, it has to be born from within. There aren’t deadlines for our passion, but the onus is on us to decipher, decide and commit.
To avoid making the big decisions is like walking into a massive buffet not knowing what to eat. Maybe you don’t want to choose the wrong dish and fill your stomach with something you don’t like so you decide to sit through your two-hour meal hungry. Our time is finite. We can’t afford to not make decisions. I’m not very athletic — nor do I support mega-corporations — but to paraphrase Nike, sometimes we just have to do it.
Michelle Fang is a sophomore in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .