You Don't Need Direction Yet

Awkward O-Week mingling centres around four questions:
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your college?”
“What’s your degree?”
“What do you want to do in the future?”

I was surprised hearing everyone’s responses. Most people seemed able to give clear answers to each question. It felt like they all knew exactly what they wanted to do and had already intricately planned the pathway to get there. They were impressive – a great many people I had only just met had enormous ambitions and aspirations to create genuine change in the world, or to be incredibly successful in their chosen field.

By contrast, I could never answer the fourth question. I hadn’t even chosen a field, how was I supposed to know what I wanted my future to hold?

The thing is: I’m not apathetic, but I don’t have any real passions yet. I mean, I do stuff. I play sports, I have hobbies, and I care a great deal about issues in the public sphere. That being said, I wouldn’t describe myself as passionate about any of those things. There isn’t one single issue which I feel an innate connection with.

Back when my ex-girlfriend and I first started talking, one of the questions she asked me was “What do you care about?”. She had just explained at length why she was passionate about mental health and psychology. That was something that I admired a lot. I still do.

But admiring her passion didn’t mean I could find my own.

I couldn’t pick an issue and say that I was most passionate about that. I still don’t have an answer to that question, and when you’re surrounded by people who do, it can make you feel worthless. It can make you feel like you don’t deserve to be here.

In the last week I’ve met people who want to devote their lives towards indigenous health, sustainable tourism and a plethora of other worthwhile and admirable pursuits. Lots of us have heard about that guy at the XSA event who answered “Why are you here at ANU?” with “To bring democracy to Azerbaijan”. Good for that guy.

But we don’t all need to be that guy. Certainly not yet.

I’m a first year. I’m new here and it’s pretty evident that I can’t talk about anything with authority. I have no idea what the fuck I want to do.

I’m writing this article because I suspect that there are probably a lot of first-years (and later years for that matter) who are in the same boat as me. They usually go unnoticed because they also tend to be the quieter, more insular people – certainly when it comes to the discussion about our futures.

So despite my position of approximately zero authority, I give two pieces of advice.

Firstly, there are positives of being in this position. Without having any sense of direction, I have the opportunity to explore completely unburdened by worries about leaving my “set” path. I can figure out my future organically and have it feel like I’m just having fun in the interim. Admittedly, this is something that I have to remind myself of constantly, but all the same, I think there’s a shred of truth in it.

The other thing that I can say, as a person who constantly stresses about all sorts of things, is that it’s easy to fall into a mindset of nihilism. Especially when you’re constantly hearing about the ambitions and passions of everyone around you.

Don’t do it.

Don’t convince yourself in the short term that you’re a failure and that everything’s pointless. Don’t become a hermit in your room. Don’t disengage. I’m partly saying this directly to myself because the temptation to lock my door and not participate in anything is really, really, really strong.

This isn’t news and you will have inevitably heard it before, but I think it bears repeating: you do not need to pick or find your passions right now. It’s okay to be unhappy and to wait for things to settle down and for you to find a groove. If you have a passion and want to devote your life to it, good for you. If you don’t yet, or don’t at all, it doesn’t matter.

University is where you get to explore and figure out who you really are. Even if, right now, you feel bad, or you feel like you don’t know who you are, or you feel lost, university is the place where you find yourself. Even if you don’t have direction, there’s always a reason to get out of bed in the morning.