By Angela Zhao
When I was applying to colleges, I made sure that the ones I considered would give me plenty of flexibility. I could create my own course of study if I so desired; the majors offered were wide and varied. There was plenty of support for traditional paths of study, but also lots of enthusiasm for interdisciplinary pathways. There were clubs based around everything from hot cocoa to quidditch to underwater basket weaving with snails and mermaids. Stanford seemed to fit the bill.
Yet when I came here, all I could think of was my desire to remain a stem cell, brimming with potential at every turn. I could barely fathom the thought of differentiating into a physicist or a supply chain manager or a baroque art historian specializing in Artemisia Gentileschi. As it turns out, I want to be none of these things, but the thought of becoming someone — well, that was utterly terrifying.
Let the record show that I did have a desire of making myself into something. If I didn’t, what else would I say at the first high school reunion? That I’ve become a used-car salesman? Not that I have anything against used-car salesmen, but it certainly isn’t where I hope to be in eight years.
I had hoped, desperately, that I would be able to maintain my veneer of maturity by choosing a major when I came in, but the more I explored, the more my terror grew. What careers did these people have? How did their lives turn out? How much of their major was actually effective in their pursuit of happiness? Should I have focused on money-making instead? Perhaps that would be the key to becoming a successful sheep with a questionable soul status.
What I am ultimately terrified of is making the wrong choice. I have run from those life-changing monumental decisions — I picked a school that gave me opportunities to be mostly anything I desired. I picked a major that is notoriously flexible. I search for internships and jobs that will teach me skills so that I can career-hop if I need.
I understand that childhood is the time to be young, dumb and reckless enough to learn how to pick oneself up after making the wrong choice, and that I am still a child. But sometimes there is not always a path back to the life I had envisioned. Occasionally, I would wish that I lived in medieval Europe where I was assigned a role and duty-bound to carry it out — yet I know that I would have hated restraints being placed on me.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the desire to always have potential, and I am terrified that, as I choose careers and commit to hobbies and passion projects, I necessarily limit myself in the directions in which I could grow. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it isn’t. I do think, though, that people are not the same as stem cells, and that I should make my choices before they are made for me.
Contact Angela Zhao at angezhao ‘at’ stanford.edu.