As I lie in bed researching where I want to spend the next 4 years of my life, I listen to the constant drone of cars flying by on the adjacent highway right outside my window. I gaze up at the silhouetted potted plants that line my windowsill and squint against the bright background of a cloudy afternoon sky. It’s a dreary day, but I don’t find myself feeling tired or sad… just frozen in time.
I’ve just arrived in Newburyport, MA for my summer research internship and I feel like I’m caught in a strange state of limbo as we wait for the experiments to begin. Though I love my work and the idea of spending an entire summer outside, I can’t help but feel a deep, menacing sense of panic when I begin to think of my future. I have so many interests and dreams that I believe I must start picking one or two to focus on if I ever want to be truly great at any of them.
And that selection process is killing me.
I am slightly envious of those fortunate few that are born or come into their life-long passions. Those that have that one thing that gives their live purpose. That one thing that they have devoted such extensive time to that they have reached a level of mastery unsurpassed by a large majority of the population. That one thing that they can see themselves continuing to love for the rest of their days on this Earth.
I don’t have that one thing.
I love art. I’ve done it for as long as I can remember and it was a massive part of my identity through high school – I was even accepted into RISD but decided on a pre-med track because it was “more practical”.
That said, I also love science. I love medicine and the intricacies and inner workings of the human body. I participated in shadowing program in high school and thought it would be an immensely difficult but rewarding career path. My heart soars when I imagine myself surgically fixing deformities of unfortunate victims of accidents or genetic deformities and giving patients the chance to live fuller lives unrestrained by the challenges of their appearances that society imposes on them.
I love plants and learning how they shape the conditions of our planet. I’ve dedicated the entirety of my college career – all 3 years and 3 summers of research – to studying the environment and how wetland ecosystems in particular function and react to human actions. Heck, I even opted out of studying abroad in a foreign country like Italy or New Zealand in order to study for a semester in Woods Hole to get a quality education and set of experiences as an environmental scientist. My dream – regardless of whether my biology path would take me there – was to be able to travel to underdeveloped or polluted areas in the world and recreate or restore natural systems to help provide cleaner water, fresher air, and protection from floods and hurricanes.
My weirdest, quirkiest passion is birds – more specifically chickens. Some people have that one thing that makes them unequivocally and unreasonably happy whenever they see it. This could be certain foods. Or TV shows. For many people that I know, this thing is dogs (understandable). But this thing for me is birds and chickens. No matter how sour of a day I am having, if I take a walk outside and listen to the robins singing and see the crows curiously inspecting each blade of grass, my mood is instantly lifted. It is unbelievable how much joy these little animals bring to me. My pet chickens over the years have a similar effect. Each bird has such distinct personalities – we’ve never had two chickens that were the same. I can recognize them by voice alone and love watching them grow up from baby chicks. I dream one day of owning a farm or small plot of land to raise even more chickens and critters of my own, perhaps acting as a farm animal sanctuary to give abused animals the best life I could possibly give them.
Aside from my passions, I’ve also found how unfortunate the monetary situation is for many of my possible professions (minus being a doc). I love traveling, and I have fallen in love with the idea of living in California or Washington, D.C.. Both require extensive funds. Will I have to sacrifice a passion for a job that can pay for me to live where I want, or will I have to sacrifice my dream home for a job that I love?
Figuring this all out as a 20-some year-old isn’t the worst thing in the world. But it sure is a major source of stress for me at the moment. I’ve heard it said many times before and I can’t agree with it more:
“Having a choice is always better than not having a choice. But with so many choices for young adults these days, how the hell can you know what you want in life? With so many choices comes immense pressure to choose the right thing. Because what if you make a choice, but you end up miserable? Then, you don’t even have the circumstances to blame. It was you that made that choice in the end when you could’ve made a better one.”
I’ve always been told the world is mine to take. I can do whatever I put my mind to. But if you could do anything, how could you ever choose just one path to take?
I recently had a conversation with a man who works at a pharmaceutical company that said something that struck me, as well, though. Sure, there are many paths in life, but that doesn’t mean that there is ONE best path out there for each person. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t find your ONE perfect career or passion that you are doomed. A better mindset might be to find something you like, and become the absolute best you can be. Learn to love your job and your craft. Work to become incredible at it, no matter what it may be. And in time, you might find it become a passion or not, but you will have the pride in your dedication and skill.
This summer at the little house on the marsh, I hope that I can find time to figure out a path to take and accept that while it might or might not be THE ONE path for me, I still enjoy the process of learning and developing new skills in the field and can see myself growing as a person in the future while pursuing that path.
Only time will tell.