Mention the word ‘College’, and it instantly strikes this deeply rooted fear in cervices inside you that you never knew existed.
I think a lot of us–especially youths–worry about this because it is one of those really-big-life-changing decisions that you have to make after leaving the confines of high school and a structured educational pathway.
You’re finally in control; you get to take the wheel and call the shots in your own learning journey for once, instead of having people tell you that you have to do this and that in order to be a capital-S Somebody.
Of course you can imagine the kind of stress that comes with something like this, and there’s bound to be a flood of questions that seem to have no clear-cut answers: What do I study? Am I smart enough for this? What if I can’t handle it? What if I hate it? Will it pay the bills?…and so on so forth.
It seems to be an absolute and final thing. Something that you don’t get to undo or hit ctrl + z on, if you made a mistake. One chance. That’s all.
But what if it isn’t?
It happens to all of us
In a perfect world, everyone on planet earth would be whoever they wanted to be. They would be the person they said they would be in primary school.
My engineering friend would’ve been a musician. My accountant mother would’ve been a doctor. My mass comm majoring best friend would’ve been an anthropologist. The fact that these are only a handful of people out of the long list of others I can name, is a really sad thing.
Dear reader, as I say this, there’s probably a familiar face in your head who has, or is, experiencing the same thing. Maybe it’s you, even.
Thing is, it’s not theirs–or even your own–fault. There are a million things that probably went wrong. Maybe you couldn’t afford to study medicine. Maybe your parents hated the idea. Maybe you realized that playing music wouldn’t pay the bills. Maybe there isn’t a single college in Malaysia that offers the course you wanted to study. Maybe you didn’t know what you wanted. Life happened, I don’t know. But it happened, and you couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening.
This is what happened to me
In high school, I wanted to be a film director. I wanted to study in America. I was going to make films and write novels and live the bohemian life (in a hipster studio apartment in New York, no less). This article is largely written in my perspective, but bear with me here, we’ll get there.
From a very young age, I knew I didn’t want a traditional career, to end up in a cubicle, stuck in a 9-5 job, working for some soulless corporation whose only focus is making money, and manipulating the rest of the public into giving them their money. Screw capitalism. I wanted to make art and move lives with it. I wanted to inspire and make people think.
More than anything else, I wanted to keep my soul, not sell it to the devil.
Guess what I ended up doing? Advertising.
At the time, I justified this by reasoning that I enjoy being right 99.9% of the time (and this is coming from a girl who at the age of three, corrected her kindergarten teacher’s pronunciation only to be punished and later proven to be right. True story.), am a half-decent writer/artist and not being completely dumb, I reasoned with myself that this was this right decision for me. I couldn’t afford an overseas education. Film wasn’t going to pay the bills. And how many people end up making money out of writing books anyway?
Advertising was a safe choice. It requires a certain, specific type of creativity, and it’s still a corporate job so it will definitely pay bills. I reasoned that at least some of my artistic aspirations would be utilized in it, that I wasn’t settling.
Living with your “regrets”
I was wrong.
I started my degree a while ago, and I find myself struggling to say that I genuinely love what I am doing. I enjoy certain courses, and struggle with most. I can’t get my advertising assignments right. My work isn’t good enough. And as time went on, I found myself thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?”. Thing is, this was a grave that I practically dug myself into.
I was told very early on that most people don’t last very long in advertising. People usually end up leaving the industry really early–a maximum of five years, according to my lecturer. A career in advertising means long hours. Tremendous amount of stress. Staying on in the office till late, even if it means not going home at all.
And I chose–chose–to do this course anyway, even though I knew this. I was justifying my decision, even though I knew, deep inside, that I was going to regret it. I chose a career path that was exactly all the things I hated, a career path that I felt I wouldn’t last long in, a course that I was now struggling to keep up with. And this worried me.
I’m already making bad decisions. I’m in a course that I’m not good at. I’m going to end up in a career I know I’m bound to end up leaving. What’s going to happen next?
This is something that a lot of us struggle with. Sometimes we think that one bad decision–one mistake–is all we need to royally screw up our lives. That somehow whatever possibility we’ve had in that distant, glamorous future is now gone because we picked the wrong road, and that you now have to live with it and settle into that mistake of a life you’ve chosen. And that you suck at every aspect of your course and that you’re doomed to fail and end up feeding pigeons under flyovers.
I won’t lie, I am entirely prone to make sweeping statements about my mistakes as well. I wish I hadn’t come here. Maybe if I’d done A-levels instead. Maybe if I did any other course. But these ‘regrets’, we call them that because we think that they are a mistake. A lot of people will tell you that it’s a matter of perspective, and as much as I hate to admit it, it kinda is.
Yes, you can kick and scream about how life sucks, you can throw that ridiculously expensive lamp your parents bought (jk don’t do that) OR–or, you can turn it around, say “f*** it” and actually do something about it.
Yes, life didn’t go the way you hoped it would. But uh, that’s what life is supposed to do! It’s supposed to take all these twists and turns you didn’t see coming, and you will fall back down, because you are strong enough to get back up and deal with that shizz. Yes, you’ll feel more than a little bit lost at 18 (19 or 20), but that tremendous amount of pressure to have your life together by now it is a total and utter lie.
You won’t magically know what to do when you go into college. You won’t magically know how the rest of your life is going to turn out. It’s not going to happen. Yes, you can probably plan, but even then there is something that is almost bound to go wrong. Less than a year ago, you were still asking for permission to go to the toilet, I mean think about it. You had to ask permission to empty your bowels, and now you’re suddenly thrust into the real world, being told that you can now do whatever you want to do, be whatever you want to be, when just six months ago you practically had no control over your body’s needs.
Okay, I’m digressing, but the point is….it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. I don’t. You don’t. And there is plenty of others out there that feel the same way. A lot of us try to put up this facade, because we’re terrified that someone is going to see through the polish, and realize what’s underneath–a lot of self-doubt, probably with a little anxiety thrown in. But that’s just what it is: a mask.
It is okay to be lost. And what’s more important is you are not the only person feeling lost.
So what now?
I don’t know. I wish I could tell you that there’s some magical formula for all of this, but there isn’t. The next best thing, I suppose, is simply to trust yourself to make the right decisions, and to stick with them, knowing that you’ve done the best that you can.
You can always see something as a mistake, or you can turn it into the best decision you’ve made in your entire life. Either way, if you’re feeling a little bit down in the dumps, more than just a little bit scared, and having no clue as to what you’re doing, it’s okay. Give yourself a little credit. Have a little faith that you’ve made the right decision. And if you haven’t, do something about it. Take another road. It’s okay to make detours if you feel that its necessary. You are not alone.
Point is, just know that you’re trying your best, and you should be proud of that. Always.
Written by: Peh Xin Ying