How many times have you heard that your years in college will be the greatest years you will ever have? Even if you have the wisdom to see the falsehood of that statement, it's impossible to deny that there is a lot of pressure to make college exceptional. Your elementary and secondary school years are spent dreaming about it, working to get into that one school, and once you get in, everything complicated in your life will fall perfectly into place, right?
Wrong. Let me preface this by stating that college is fun. It's a time to meet new people, explore who you are, and build connections that will last a life time. And yes, you will probably look back on college and notice that a handful of your college memories really are some of the greatest you've ever made. College, though, is not all fun and games. You have to figure out who you want to be, and most of the time, there's pressure to figure that out right now. What do you want to study? What do you want to do? Will you go into the workforce, or should you try to go straight into graduate school? What do you value? Who are you really?
College is an amalgamation of extreme opposites. You are getting your first taste of adult freedom, while simultaneously feeling restrained by the pressures of school. You feel sure of yourself on campus, while also feeling uncertain of where you fit in the "real world." College is a time in your life rife with indecision, and how you deal with it shapes your experience, while teaching you how to deal with obstacles you will face later in life.
I'm sitting in the middle of the indecision right now as I enter my second year of college, but I've already handled my fair share. I walked on to Harvard's campus in August 2017 an ardent Republican and a yoga aficionado, just knowing that I was going to concentrate in Government with a secondary in English, join the competitive Mock Trial team and the college Republicans, and graduate in three years before going to Harvard Law School.
One year has passed. I am returning to Harvard a fierce political independent and weight lifter, concentrating in Philosophy, and definitely taking all four years to graduate. I never tried out for the Mock Trial team, and I didn't run for student government. I left the college Republicans to form a group on campus for political moderates, and who knows whether I'll be in law school three years from now.
The point is that this year threw every obstacle in my way. Going off to school forced me to question who I am, what I want, and how I am going to accomplish my goals. When I went to college, I made things difficult for myself because I did not want to accept that I did not have my life completely figured out. I could not acknowledge that my thirty year plan might not have been perfect, or even good for me. As a result, I dug my metaphorical heels into the ground, and I resisted change. I forced myself to go to Government events that I did not want to attend. I tried to make myself fit into spaces on campus that I knew in my heart were not where I belonged.
Why? Because I thought it would be easier. I thought that keeping myself in a state of contentedness rather than reaching for real happiness was good for me. I could not bear the thought of taking a risk to find fulfillment, and failing to do so. I was comfortable; why fix what isn't broken?
Clearly, I had a change of heart. It came when I was sitting on the floor of Widener Library at 10:30 pm, discussing Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy with a group of my classmates and my professor. It was the moment I fell in love with philosophy, and I decided to take the words of the Meditations to heart.
In Descartes's Second Meditation, the meditator is questioning whether she exists. Eventually, she comes to the conclusion of "cogito ergo sum," which translates to "I think, therefore, I am." The meditator uses this to prove her own existence; when I heard it, I decided to use it to affirm mine.
Cogito ergo sum. Those three Latin words sent me into an existential spiral. If thinking is the essence of existence, then didn't a constant denial of my innermost thoughts constitute a constant denial of my own existence? Why was I so intent on following a path I had fabricated for myself years ago, when my mind was begging me to move in another direction?
That night changed my life. In that moment, I decided to stop denying my reason, instead combining it with my passions to create a path that made me truly happy. When I was faced with cognitive dissonance, I asked myself why I was experiencing it, and I used my reason to carve a new path that avoided it. I questioned my preconceptions, challenged my beliefs, and constructed a new system of values. These values have led me to some incredible opportunities, experiences that have brought me true joy.
What does this have to do with you and dealing with indecision in college? Everything. College is so often described as a place designed to challenge you, but the challenge goes so far beyond the classroom. You need to challenge yourself. Examine your beliefs, dissect them, and decide which ones are worth keeping. Rebuild your character and your system of values to create a person who is confident, life-affirming, and happy.
When you are faced with indecision, ask yourself why you are feeling it. Trace it back to your values, and reason your way through it. I know, I know: easier said than done. You are right. Dealing with indecision in college is not by any means easy, especially when it feels as if the stakes are higher than ever. Indecision, though, helps us towards inner discovery. It forces us to adapt, to progress in order to address the obstacles ahead.
Face indecision head on, and do not fear failure. Failure allows us to grow. It shows us that somewhere along the line, there was an error in the mechanics of our decision making, and it teaches us to review our mistakes to become stronger. I am by no means the expert on dealing with self doubt, but I can tell you from personal experience that in our moments of indecision, there are no wrong answers. Every time you are faced with a challenging decision, you are faced with an opportunity for growth. Follow your reason combined with your passion, and do not be afraid to embrace change. After all, these are the best years of your life.