Columns, Opinion

EGAN: The Great Perhaps

French Renaissance writer Francois Rabelais’ last words were, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Now maybe I am reflecting on an end while I am still wading waist deep, through my senior year, but I can’t stop thinking of the Great Perhaps on which we’ll embark come May.

Already I am collecting possible futures to paint the pending white canvas ahead. Job opportunities, volunteer organizations and graduate schools, these things flit across the back of my mind constantly. The variation among them is almost worrying. The uncertainty is exhilarating, the possibilities endless. Next year I could go anywhere, be anyone. Not knowing what lies ahead is exciting, but I haven’t always thought that way.

Everyone remembers those first college visits — the sprawling campuses, the awkward tour guides walking backwards and the tiny dorm rooms. The encompassing and overwhelming feeling of not knowing what to major in  — and the reassuring answer, “It’s okay to be undecided. You have four years to figure it out.”

I came into college with my major declared and with a plan – a neuroscience, pre-med plan. A past high school teacher commented once, “You know, this will likely change,” and I rolled my eyes. I was set, I knew what I wanted and I was going for it.

Predictably, it all started to fall apart my sophomore year. I began to become aware of the gravity of my decisions, the weight of picking a future at 19. I started to second-guess myself. Becoming a doctor is to become something innately good. Years of hard work and you pull a white coat over your shoulders, swing a stethoscope around your neck and begin a lifetime of helping people. But the more I read, and the more I learned, the more apparent it became how bound by that white coat doctors seem to be.

The clinic I worked at in Roxbury was overrun by patients who couldn’t fill their prescriptions and doctors who could warn parents their children were at risk for diabetes but couldn’t do anything about it.

I panicked. I wanted a smooth, clean, linear trajectory into a meaningful future. I compulsively needed a plan, and the more knowledge I collected, the less clear the path became. I let go of dreams of medical school. With children suffering from asthma because their carpets were full of mold, the ability to write a prescription no longer seemed like the solution.

Though I wish I could say I jumped into the gray areas between the realms of black and white decisions, it was a lot closer to a fall. By my junior year I was lingering on the edges of a melodramatic emotional breakdown. I had a plan, I let it go, and now I didn’t know what the new plan should be and that was terrifying. Getting from there to here was an all out street fight, but somewhere along the way I have just kind of let go.

I realized that maybe that Robert Frost poem we all have to memorize in grade school is actually relevant. Sure the destination is important, but the journey is far more interesting.  So, no I don’t know what I’m going to do next year, but (for now) I’m actually okay with that. Yes, the world is riddled with problems, be they lack of affordable housing, the healthcare overhaul, the privatization of our water sources, etc., etc. I’m sure the list goes on. But, if we all take the shortest most direct route to fixing the problems, and we all travel the same path, our perspectives will be too similar and the problems will remain unsolved.

I think, and maybe this is self-reassurance, that it is okay to leave college undecided. Maybe it’s more than okay. Maybe it’s better. The paths we take will wind, the jobs we have will change, the perspectives we bring will be different. Our strength is not knowing exactly where we are going, but what we want to accomplish. We will come at our goals in different ways, but meet at the end with the solutions. What ever Great Perhaps awaits in the coming year, we are ready for it.


Ariel Egan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Fall 2012 columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected].

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