How to Succeed in College When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
College isn’t for everyone. Let’s just get that out there. I’m sure some people are going to be outraged (outraged) that I’m saying those words, especially when I went to an elite East Coast girls school, but whatever, haters. The truth must come out. College isn’t the best learning environment for everyone. It can be very stressful, and lonely, and disorganized. It demands a lot of self-discipline, and self-awareness from people at a time in their lives, when they may not be prepared. I knew someone who squeaked through two colleges before barely graduating from her third, yet, years later, went on to win a Fulbright.
I personally wasn’t thrilled to be at my alma mater until I had spent a year studying overseas in Russia. Then, returning to Wellesley’s cloistered environment, for my senior year, I was on fire. I understood what a privilege I had received and I graduated with Latin honors but without that time away, I would have just been another spoiled brat.
I’m just saying: college isn’t for everyone. Also, nowadays, there’s tremendous pressure to go to a great school, and graduate into a great job and be, like, CEO by the time you’re 25, and know yourself, and be rich and famous, but also humble and every other kind of horseshit. I constantly have the young people emailing me, wanting advice, worried about making mistakes, and when I say, “Yep, you’re going to make mistakes, such is life,” I get The Look. Maybe growing up nowadays, with social media, people think they can avoid making mistakes but alas no, all they can avoid doing is being truly alive. (Oh my lord, so corny, sorry, but true.)
All this to say, if you’re still in college, and graduation is looming, and you have no idea what the hell you should be doing, 1) join the club, and 2) this is an excellent time to get a job, working in the college department that most interests you. Let’s say, for example, you love history. Why not get a job, answering phones, or whatever, in the history department? Before you tell me that you don’t want to teach history, oh chillax. Working in the history department, will put you in daily contact with people who are doing–more or less–interesting things with their own history majors. These professors and adjuncts will know about grants, fellowships, study abroad opportunities, and the like.
Work in the department, show up for your job on time, be perky and polite, and well-dressed, do you job instead of Facebooking all day…and hey, you never know. When info on grants or work-abroad opportunities come through, it’s very likely that they’ll think of you and say, “Hey, you interested…?” That’s how it happens.
Listen, if you’re lucky enough to even know what you like, you’re still far ahead of most people. Having the courage to follow your passion, wherever it leads you, is what will change your life. If you know a subject that fascinates you, and if you’re brave enough to say, “Well, I love art history, not sure what the hell I can do with it, but let me have an open mind, and put myself among people who know a lot more than me….” Bingo. I was a History Major, with a focus on Russian Area Studies, and the professors in my Russian Department, helped me to study at Middlebury College Language School. They helped me go to Russia with a great exchange program. They helped me change my life in oh so many ways. Simply because I had no preconceived notions, and allowed them to help me.
Just realize that while you’re busy telling yourself all the reasons your history major is doomed to fail, there are people who committed to it, who know a lot more than you do, and if you allow yourself…oh the places you’ll go!
P.S: I’ve never ever regretted my history major. I just regret that more people don’t study history because, as George Santayana said, “Those who do not learn from the past, are condemned to repeat it.”