As a little girl, I was enthralled by the idea of living a perfect life. I had dreams of becoming a pediatrician and establishing my own children’s hospital all while getting married and raising a family.
I had a timeline in which I wanted to achieve my goals and I expected all of this to occur by the time I was 35. Whenever I would share these pursuits with adults, I would receive patronizing responses that were masked under the guises of endearing smiles and encouraging words. I believe in dreaming big and affirming myself no matter how large the feat. However, there was an issue with the path I sought to follow in order to achieve my goals. I had a strict timeline that did not leave much room for me to explore, discover myself, and truly define what I wanted.
At the age of 16, I realized that becoming a doctor was an aspiration that I no longer held, and I found that this career goal was influenced more by a desire to have prestige rather than having a passion for medicine. Like many of us, I held a very narrow view of success and I thought I needed to follow a perfect plan in order to be successful. Realizing that I no longer wanted to be a doctor was very difficult for me to accept because I felt like I lost my purpose and sense of direction. I was also uncomfortable with the idea of graduating high school and not knowing what I wanted to study in college.
Needless to say, I entered my freshman year of college undecided on my major and unclear about what I wanted to pursue professionally. I felt like I was wandering aimlessly, which gave me a lot of anxiety; especially when I encountered peers who seemed to have clear paths and visions of their futures. After the first semester of my freshman year, I realized that not having a plan was okay, and if anything, I had the opportunity to explore and learn more about myself. I needed to take a step back from the self-imposed pressures I held so dear in order to recognize that at 18 years old, I was only just embarking on my journey. Given this, there was (and is) so much that I need to learn and expose myself to. I became more open to new information, opportunities, and experiences even if I was unsure about whether they would align with my long-term goals. In the exploratory process, I realized that my journey would not be linear because I needed to have diverse experiences that would help to mold my path. These experiences would steer my path in directions I never planned for or thought about – taking me through a series of twists and turns vital in my process of self-discovery.
I made an active choice to change my perspective by embracing life’s uncertainty rather than running from it. My perspective of college shifted as well as I began to view college as a formative space that fostered my growth and broadened my knowledge and understanding. I no longer saw my classes as requirements needed to obtain my degree, but rather, opportunities for me to discover my interests. In the spring of my sophomore year of college, I took on a second major in African American Studies with a concentration in Public Policy. I love my majors and I am immensely grateful to be studying topics that I have such a keen interest and passion for.
Although I have discovered what interests me, I still lack clarity on what I want to do and who I want to be. I do not know what kind of job or profession I want to hold and I am trying to determine how I would like to further my education. A looming thought that resides within my mind is “what am I going to do with my life?”. I have made a conscious decision to look at everything I do as an opportunity to learn, rather than as a means to an end. The lessons and insight I gain are what push me forward and promote my progress as I learn more about myself and what I enjoy doing. In the midst of this inner dialogue, I make sure to remember that my journey will not be linear; and it does not have to be in order for me to be successful.
My Tips on Navigating a Nonlinear Journey:
Written by Senam Okpattah
Senam Okpattah is a Junior at the University of Maryland College Park. She is double majoring in Public Policy and African American Studies with a policy concentration. She interned for The Dinner Table Doc this summer and enjoyed her experience so much, that she decided to return for the fall semester!