The four tightly squeezing white walls of the independent study room pressed in as the low hum of classical music wafted out of my computer. Students call these rooms the coffins for, I assume, what they feel like and what they do to you. They exist as a last resort to avoid distraction—a prison of focus and productivity, a place to bury your procrastination.
I found myself there in hour five of a final paper-writing marathon. The cursor flashed in rhythm to the music. The paint chipped where the chair rubbed up against it. There was dirt under my fingernails and I think I could feel my hair growing. You notice these things while you descend into madness. Things would be like this for the next week.
Let me go back to the start of the semester, when I decided to switch all of my classes. I originally meant to do what made me comfortable: chemistry, biology and genetics. I felt comfortably confident in these subjects, with experience in classes like these. It felt good about taking finals in them. Then, for reasons still unclear to me, I decided to give the English department a try.
Up to that point, I lived in the biology major. I loved it, I excelled at it and stood a decent chance of eventually catching that white whale of the Liberal Arts experience—employability. Then I switched. Why? I still don’t know. Maybe it gave me more freedom to be interested in many things. Maybe I knew I didn’t want to become a doctor, or maybe I just did it to be that guy.
No matter the reason, everything changed immediately. I read novels, poems, short stories, scholarly articles and essays. Instead of exams, I wrote papers. Instead of unit questions, I got interpretive ones and guess what? I loved it.
Here comes all of the frustration. I love the sciences and I love the humanities. I love definitive answers and academic arguments. I love lectures and I love discussions. I love my new major and the one I left.
It’s a problem I never thought I’d face. I wanted to find my passion and follow it. If switching majors needed to happen, fine, but I felt like that one thing sat waiting for me, that one subject, employable or not, to exclusively latch my teeth into. It worked out much differently. I find myself caught between two very different fields unable, or maybe unwilling, to let either one go.
Finals week becomes something very different when writing papers as opposed to studying for exams. As I sat in one of the coffins attempting to craft a paper worth reading, I missed the comfort of a cumulative test with right and wrong answers. Lost in the word count and scrambling through citations, I didn’t yet know my pace as a writer and struggled to stay focused. Hour after hour mounted as I wrote page by excruciating page. Two all-nighters, almost no social contact and dangerous levels of caffeine added up to an incredibly intense finals week and a true baptism by fire into the humanities.
Of course, being able to commit and take seriously such long and exhausting work shows that what you are doing holds weight in your heart. Some would say you’ve found that one right thing. However, as I found out in a bittersweet revelation, that one right thing is, at its heart, a myth.
Instead, a right thing, one enticing choice out of many, something you enjoy enough to do beyond comfort, rings as a more realistic endpoint. In turn, you go down one of the many avenues of the world and, like it or not, there are only so many credit hours in a semester and only so many hours in a day. You’re unable to travel the routes of all of your dreams but the longer you stand at the crossroads, the less ground you cover.
My advice: find a right thing and keep going.