Before first arriving on Princeton’s campus last fall, I had subconsciously created a checklist with a million and one expectations for my four years here — meeting amazing people that I’d call friends for life, or discussing Thoreau under an oak tree. I admit that this isn’t the smartest thing to do, but with so many people telling me how amazing and life changing college would be, how could I not anticipate these experiences I was told were supposed to be happening? For the most part, a good chunk of these expectations have been met or will be. But one important one, one that is a bit more time-sensitive, has yet to occur. I am, of course, talking about finding the love of my life.
I think I’m most disappointed that this hasn’t happened yet because it was the moment I could so vividly picture in my mind: I realize there are hundreds of options around me. I’m weighing them all, trying to be as rational as possible, when out of nowhere, my attention is grabbed. This one stands out from all the rest. I begin questioning everything I once thought I wanted, my goals and dreams have changed before my very eyes, and I can feel it in the core of my being that I have been permanently changed. Yes, I signed up for the ride, but I didn’t know it would take me to this terrifying, amazing place where I question everything I’ve ever thought about myself and my place in the world.
This is what the moment of finding my academic passion would be like, or so I imagine. But in the past year I’ve been at Princeton, I have yet to find that one course by that one amazing professor which has hit me like a ton of bricks in signifying what I’m meant to do with my life.
Don’t get me wrong; I know which areas of study are most interesting to me. When applying, the greatest allure of Princeton was the Wilson School. The idea of policy, creating effective change through analyzing all the results of the past, circumstances in the present and ramifications in the future, interests me because it is a conglomeration of so many areas of study. And I know that I want to help underserved communities, both in the United States and internationally. I want to be “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations,” and I find even knowing this is a blessing.
But the romantic in me is simply waiting for a course to sweep me off my feet. Because even though I know I’m interested in policy, there are a million angles from which it can be approached. Moreover, even knowing I’m interested in international affairs and am planning to concentrate in Woody Woo, I’m left feeling strangely wary. I wonder if I’m choosing such a major because I think it’s safer than others that interest me, like English or Spanish and Portuguese languages and culture. I also wonder about the other possible paths I could take to achieve the end goal of helping underserved peoples —there are other available majors like sociology, or I could even study something completely different and find my way to the non-profit sector later in life.
Finally, I think on what my AP Psychology teacher in high school once told me, about how life’s possibilities for each of us are virtually endless. To keep our minds from being overwhelmed, he said, we tidily box ourselves into categories while rejecting all others.
The idea of “one seminar to rule them all” changes then. It becomes less quixotic and acts more as a safety mechanism. You’ve encountered what you think to be your professional destiny. Thus, you can convince yourself that, after experiencing such a drastic alteration in your expected course, you’ve finally figured it all out.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten relevant to this was over coffee with a friend and an awesome grad student we had sought out for a chat. He said, “Many people in Princeton are so concerned with the ‘what.’ And once they figure that out, they start creating a million different ‘hows.’ But I think the best thing you can do is know ‘why.’ If you know why you’re doing what you are, it all falls into place so much easier.”
I may not know what I’m doing at Princeton or beyond. But I firmly believe in the why —“in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations”—and that will be enough for now.
Lea Trusty is a sophomore from Saint Rose, La. She can reached at email@example.com.