From the point you become a semi-coherent human, you are inundated with a loose itinerary that you are unspokenly expected to follow. Go to school, then more school, then Advanced School™ (and maybe even more, if you so desire or if your wallet can even fathom it). You have to find one thing you want to do, then stick with it. Suddenly, you’re an adult working a full-time job, feeling the pressure of finding a romantic partner with the concept of “settling down” looming eerily close. Granted, some people find this type of lifestyle to be ideal, but there seems to be little wiggle room in this narrative without getting questioned by family and friends.
It’s easy to get too caught up in expectations from the academic industry and from your peers – it’s a natural human inclination to look for reassurance in the external. But when your body and mind are screaming at you to do one thing, and you choose something else because it’s “safer” and more expected of you? That’s where you need to seriously reevaluate.
Now, to get slightly existential (at the risk of sounding cheesy): you only have one existence, as far as we know. Think about how you would feel, in retrospect, about the life you have now; is it something you would be proud of? Would you feel satisfied with what you have done so far, or do you have a passion that you have suppressed? How much of what you are doing feels robotic, and how much of it feels genuinely driven by desire?
Being young especially makes us prone to the “we have all the time in the world” mentality – the cold hard truth is, we don’t. It is really important to take into account all your feelings and desires; obviously, there are limitations, but it’s not impossible to work within your individual limitations to get even just a little closer to where you want to be.
You can take a gap year if you need it! You can travel if you save up enough money for it! You don’t have to be involved with someone seriously, have a house, or even have kids by a certain time of your life. There are plenty of people who stray away from the current conventional American timeline for other pursuits, whether they are intellectual, emotional, spiritual, etc. You are a singular human, above all, and yes – you should be selfish when making decisions about your life’s direction.
It’s okay to be unsure; it’s just a sign you need to take a step back and conceptualize your direction in life, then evaluate if it’s something you actually want. Sometimes you can get caught on a path that feels like it’s picking up unrelenting momentum, but you can always plant your feet and revise your plans. All you need is the knowledge that you have the power to do so, whenever you want to.