“I hate shopping,” I whined to my mom on the phone on the second day of winter quarter. She laughed.
“I never thought you’d say that.”
I had to agree with her, but shopping for classes this winter quarter seems anything but fun or therapeutic.
In theory, shopping sounds like a great thing to do. It epitomizes all the possibility and potentiality of a liberal arts education.
Just consider the abundance of courses you can choose from – such scope for intellectual vitality! Consider the ability to add/drop classes at your volition – just two clicks on SimpleEnroll! Consider the minimal Berkeley-esque brawling for scarce resources – remember, you chose Stanford, not vice versa, and now you get to choose just about everything you study!
But with great choice comes not only great responsibility, but also great potential for paralysis via choice. Especially as a second-quarter freshman – that is, as someone in that in-between phase where you’re still new enough to experience confusion but not new enough to be entirely justified in utter confusion – shopping makes me ask all sorts of awful questions about myself. Not to be overdramatic and existential, but I have no substantive clue what I’m doing with my life.
The more I ponder this question and others, the more my ambition dwindles. In order to aspire, you need aspirations. Or do you need to aspire to form aspirations? Chicken or the egg? I don’t know, but I can add it to the ever-growing list of inquiries-lacking-answers that have occupied my mind all week long, including:
Why can’t I take 28 units? Why can’t I take seven units? Will the sun ever shine again? (Seriously.) How can I triple-major? How can I major in nothing? Why does every interesting class happen at the exact same time? Are Carta reviewers merciless? Are Carta reviewers too nice? Am I actually using SimpleEnroll as my procrastination-of-choice? How many weeks until spring break?
At this point in the article, I should probably put a twist on things. Reveal how I will combat this struggle, even if unsuccessfully. For the purposes of journalism, I don’t need results, just some lofty promises. But with eight units to my name at the end of Week 1 and an inescapable PWR class that seems to clash with every course of interest, the horizon is not exactly in sight.
Now I’m edging on territory where I sound ungrateful. I don’t intend that. Shopping, while existential for someone as indecisive as me, is strangely fun. Everyday is a new adventure, a new world. I can enroll in a course five minutes before showing up. One Monday I can be in 19th-century America and on Wednesday I can be in revolutionary Russia.
Another benefit of being obnoxiously picky is that the few classes I have are pretty awesome. In fact, math might be bearable, PWR might be legitimately woke and I’m currently in a course cross-listed under human biology and African studies – talk about interdisciplinary. I’ve got cool and classy professors. The syllabi exude relevance and sophistry.
Lastly, during shopping period it’s that easy to forget you’re not alone. With everyone rushing about, extricating a viable schedule from over 11,000 available courses, shopping is definitely one of the more independent periods of freshman year. Nonetheless, while writing this article, a friend walked by and informed me of her own crazed shopping and how she’s switching her major from mechanical engineering to English. Maybe I’m not the only one grappling with big decisions, huh?
When you realize you aren’t alone, it doesn’t seem so bad. Misery loves company, except, to reiterate, I’m not actually miserable. I’m overjoyed to be overwhelmed.
In fact, of all the paralyses of the world, paralysis by choice isn’t the worst, not even close. After all, course shopping and decision-making can teach us to be more introspective about what we really want from school, about what makes us genuinely happy. With the stakes being lower than ever, scheduling life in ten-week increments is good practice for scheduling the big picture: our lives. In order to organize our courses such that we’ll be employable or get into to grad school or just keep up with our brilliant classmates, we forget to use shopping period as a vehicle for the most important and lofty goal of college: Self-awareness.
With this in mind, I want to return to being a first-quarter freshman: The starry-eyed girl who is in perpetual awe of the endless opportunities available to her and ready to shop till she drops.
Contact Megha Parwani at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.