An Open Letter: Words of Comfort for Students Who Feel Lost About Their Future

Many moons ago, when I was an English Philology freshman, there was a panel discussion aimed at us freshmen in which older students discussed their studies. All I remember from it was this brief moment: a boy said that students should not worry about their future, but just study the subjects that they liked and see where they will end up. To this, another student strongly objected and compared life to a card game, saying how it is much better to know what sorts of cards you want to get in your hands at the end of your studies and work for them than to merely see what sorts of cards you end up with. As a 19-year-old who had drifted into English Philology studies mainly because English was kind of fun and who then spent half of the lectures thinking ”what on earth am I doing here and in life in general and actually what is the point”, what the Card Game Boy said seeped into some very essential part of my brain. I had no idea what kinds of cards I wanted to hold in the future –  did that mean I was doomed to failure?

And, let's face it, what the Card Game Boy said seems to hold true scarily often. Now that I know a little bit better what I would like to do and am seeking a job or an internship, I've come to realize that there seems to be always at least a hundred other applicants who have gathered relevant experience and knowledge since the day they were born. They have the right cards to offer: relevant studies and past job experiences that reflect their studies. At the same time, I am standing there, shyly waving my own cards that have mainly scribbled notes of all the grades I have received from courses about medieval literature, philosophy of language and religion of Native Americans, accompanied by pictures of hamburgers, made-in-China souvenirs, cappuccinos and other things I have sold in my scattered customer service jobs. And there are days when all this leads to a suffocating despair, the kind that makes me feel like a tiny worthless creature pressed between a wasted past and, because of it, an impossible future.

Recently, however, there have been more and more days when I decide that I actually am perfectly fine and I have not wasted a single day in my years of being a somewhat aimless student. Maybe I have not learned as much about being good at some specific job as some other people, but every day I have learned about being a human, and that is the opposite of wasted time. I recently had an amazing professor who underlined how important it is to always feel that you are learning for this day, for this moment, rather than for your future. That is what I feel I have done, and if I keep it up, I will probably be okay in every present moment I meet in the future, too. 

The professor in question was talking about learning in lectures, but as I think about what the university has offered me, apart from my entertainingly scattered knowledge of topics such as Beowulf and Native American bear rituals, I realize that there are other, more important things. There are university lunches that stretch into hours as I am talking with friends who bring comfort whether by being just as lost as me or by being just the opposite. There is that one teacher with a special spark who inspires me to some day get paid for doing something with as much passion. There is that whole way of critical thinking that evolves even in classes about the most trivial topics. There are the university hallways and rooms that have become another home, a safe haven guarded from the sometimes chaotic outside world. There are the complete, seemingly directionless university years that have become a building block of me, the kind that sometimes falters, in those occasional moments when I question every single decision I have ever made and conclude that I am doomed, but never truly collapses. It carries me, and it will carry me.

And besides, who wants to see studies and working life –  life – as a strategic game anyway? When it can be something so much better, so much more: an adventure.