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The Collegiate Labyrinth of Future Anxiety

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It was around the 7th grade that I fell head over heels for history during a lecture about Mughals and their architecture. Before that moment, I used to dread the sound of the bell announcing the commencement of that subject’s period; but after that Friday class I could never fully recover from the fall. I felt like Alice when she tumbled down the rabbit hole – I just kept going deeper and deeper, right into that intriguing abyss. Back then, I had never felt so sure about anything. I had finally found something that had plagued me enough to dream of transforming it into a lifetime devotion in the guise of teaching. However, now as a final year History Honors student, that crystal clear ambition of mine seems to have lost some of its gloss.

The transition from school to college was as if a bucket of freezing water was splashed onto my face. I went from being the inhabitant of an ordered, systematic setup I had become accustomed to over the years to that of a relatively chaotic and lax environs, all in what seemed like a quick snap of the fingers. Schools usually give a sense of stability because of how simple and straightforward they are in their mechanism. You do what you are told and you are rewarded. There is not a lot to think about. On the other hand, now in college your intelligence and enterprise, not your memory or discipline, are truly tested. You can’t expect success from just being uniform. You have to distinguish yourself, establish an identity that will open and assist a prosperous future for you. This was a BIG change. My reaction to the realization that college is not all independence and fun was… not great. And I’m sure it must be the same for many others. 

Some people might be firm visionaries who just keep sailing ahead, undeterred, come what may. But people like me, people who wonder about every road not taken (thank you Robert Frost), can’t help but get swept up in the whirlwind of doubts that is the hallmark of adulthood. The overbearing sack of responsibilities of being a ‘grownup’ falls onto your head and from then on, you have to make your own decisions which will have consequences you will have to deal with. And in this decision ambit is the whole rubric of a career that is supposed to constitute like 80% of the rest of your life. So unsurprisingly, questions like “What if I mess up?”, “What if I was wrong all along?” and “What if I regret my decisions when I can never undo them?” are bound to pop up.

It is not just the shock of adulthood though – expectations can’t be excluded from this conversation. Take parental ones for example. These are born along with the child. Granted, these might come from a place of genuine concern. But they have the potential to influence the ambitions of the child to an unreasonable degree. Expectations might turn into pressure, and sometimes when that ugly path is avoided, life might take another one – the need to satisfy your parents, even at the sake of your dreams, takes up a cozy space in your head (basically, the People Pleaser syndrome). Sometimes, the standards you had put up for your future don’t seem plausible when put side by side with your interests. Parents or your own self – either way, your true desires can be suffocated. 

These feelings of insecurity can worsen by seeing your peers going every kind of extra mile to get to their goals while you are still trying to figure out what your goals should be. I couldn’t help but compare myself with them, wondering if I had slacked off somewhere in the past to be struggling with my thoughts about something this important now. Others didn’t appear to be this confused. Why me? Why am I the only one who feels this way? I started questioning everything about myself. My mental health deteriorated and the quarantine confinement only intensified these negative thoughts. I needed a distraction, an escape.

That came in the form of writing. I took some interviews for content writing internships; got selected for a couple of them. I joined a college club and Her Campus, both as a writer. Not only did these things actually help take my mind off of my parents, my peers, and all other things that disturbed me, they also taught me new things that developed my perspective. I felt refreshed and productive. I started focusing on myself without the degrading tinge. What I want, what I am capable of and finding the middle ground. Do I really want to be a teacher? Or a professor? What about civil services? What about going abroad? Maybe I can try something totally unique. I started seeing the dullness of my ambition as me being cautious, and that didn’t seem like an entirely bad thing. I was getting realistic and specific about my prospects.

This is not to say that I have figured myself out completely. I am still at odds with myself over my future. But what I have realized through this experience is that whatever you had thought of as being your one definite future, can go through – dramatic or subtle – transformations. It is possible that the whole plan changes altogether. But isn’t that what college is for? It brings you face to face with a broader world overflowing with a surfeit of personalities as well as situations that compel you to reconsider and work on yourself.

Maybe you are a dreamer bound to thrive on the drug that is passion. Maybe your priorities lie with material comfort. Or maybe you want a deal that includes both. This is the time to determine what you want. Although it can be an overwhelming journey at times, looking back at the distance I have covered from the point I am currently at, I would say it has been quite a fruitful venture. I am still at work like many of you. I guess we are just supposed to make the best out of this unavoidable phase, and have started to think of it as a rite of passage to being a grown up.

If you were expecting this to be some preachy or helpful piece about how to choose your career option, I apologize. This piece comes to you from a fellow sufferer. The purpose of me blurting all this out here, while part selfish, was also part altruistic. I wanted to let others who are scared about what lies ahead for them to know that it’s okay. That they are not alone. That just like them, many others are experiencing and trying to find their way through this labyrinth. All we can do is try not to lose ourselves in its intricacy.

Tanya Khantwal

Delhi South '22

Tanya is currently studying BA (History) Honors from Gargi College. She enjoys r&b music, action anime, conspiracy theories and daydreaming about finally learning how to play the guitar.
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