What seems a small conundrum for older people could have the weight of epiphany for the young. I am using epiphany here in the old sense of the Greeks, which Wikipedia tells us means, “an experience of sudden and striking realization.”
Thus, I must be careful whenever asked by a young person, “What course should I take in college?”
It is not an easy question.
There is no universally good answer for it. Whether young or old, the person seeking to answer it takes a big risk.
But this is partly because education has become inordinately too expensive.
Oftentimes, the young person starting a course in college faces great pressure to finish the course — no matter what — just so the money will not be wasted.
But as I remember it in my own life, the first two years of college are precisely to help the young person decide what she wants to be for the rest of her life.
There have been many cases of people who dropped out of college after two years and still became very successful humans. The real question is not what course to take in college but what you want to be for the rest of your life.
And then it becomes possible for the young person to say to herself: I want to be what I am now, only better. But could that be a career?
The course to take in college, the state of being or becoming, the career, are related things.
They are things the young person needs to think about if she is one of the few lucky ones who finish high school. And please note that not all young people get here.
But even so, how may of these disparate issues be resolved?
Of the three, my own bias is to first resolve the question of being or becoming.
If the person is already happy with what she is, the other questions should be easy to answer: Find a course and career that would help you be who and what you already are, only much better.
If you feel, on the other hand, the need to be something else, then resolve the issue of becoming.
We never stop becoming. The magic of life is that you can always reinvent yourself any time you like. Young people may not fully understand this, but it is the truth.
Life reveals itself to us little by little and sometimes quite slowly.
While something can be said about resolve, commitment, and never quitting. Equal things may be said of resilience, flexibility, and being always open to possibility.
Life is a journey. Knowing where to go is important. Being successful is important. But that is not what life is.
Life is all about getting there and how.
And we are all different. Some people know where they want to go and go there by the straight and narrow path.
Others are quite happy to meander about. Which of the two is better? That, no one, not even I, can tell.
The best I can say is: Trust your feelings and never be afraid to change your mind.
But this is by no means a universal prescription. It results from my own bias.
To this day, you see, I still have not decided what I really want to be. And yes, I still have to decide whether I am successful or not. Perhaps that is not so important for me.
At no time in my life did I ever think that what I wanted to be was going to be decided by I and I alone. The Jesuits taught me to be a person for others.
And that lesson seemed to me and still seems to me now not a bad principle to live by.
And so I became a husband for my wife, a father for my children, a teacher for my students, a writer and artist for my people, and by being all that, I became a friend to myself.
And, many other things besides depending on what day and season of the year it is. And still, I cannot help thinking I can still become other things besides.
What advice could I possibly give a young person?
Feel your hands. Didn’t it lead you to where you are now? Let them keep guiding and leading you to where they will, as they have always done…
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