Very few of my friends are doing what they’d planned for themselves in college. One chemistry major friend is now an architect; one history major runs his own entertainment agency. Meanwhile, I was pre-med, until I wasn’t.You’ve heard these stories before: plans that didn’t pan out. And you’re also probably thinking, “Fine, but I should still plan this thing out.”
Here’s the problem: plans inherently change. They change because we change. College has a way of doing that. We bump into things. Those things surprise us, bore us, seduce us and repel us. They complicate us. And if we’re smart, we respond accordingly.
Still, the career question looms, and rightly so. Liberal arts advocates like myself can be misunderstood as being uninterested in life after college. It can sound as though we support refining taste, collecting cocktail-party capital and practicing some sort of bookish bohemianism, all the while never considering jobs … that sort of thing.
But to sequester college from the rest of your life, which includes your career, is to violate something centrally distinctive about Georgetown. Jesuit education is, among other things, a process of integration. It is neither dry skill-shoveling and job prep nor some decadent brain massage that ends when real life starts.
This campus swarms with skills and smarts, but, for St. Ignatius, those are bits of a deeper process of formation, of integration, of becoming. That happens as you evolve in your interests and convictions, allow room for surprise, broaden your knowledge and shape your vision of how you will contribute to “a more humane and just world.”
But, let me make a similar point in a more practical way. You worked very hard to get to Georgetown, and you deserve to indulge in that accomplishment a bit. Trust in those advantages you have already so hungrily accrued. Opt out of the resume scramble for a few semesters, and examine more deeply those things you suspect you could genuinely enjoy.
Let’s run through the next, say, three to six years.
You choose your course of study because you’re convinced it will look good to an employer. You aren’t even sure you like it that much. In job interviews, you are asked about your major, your internships, your summer jobs, etc. You get your first real job. You buy pants. You don’t love that first job (few people do, by the way), and after six months, you begin the hunt for that second job.
In those interviews, the questions go something like this: “What do you value in a supervisor?” “Why do you want this job?” “Why do you want to leave that job?” Throughout the interview, you notice a distasteful lack of interest in your college experience. Did you even READ my resume?! My college choices deserve your attention! But they won’t get attention. Instead, a few regretful raindrops begin to fall, a lonesome bagpipe moos in the distance, and we slowly zoom away from you, lost in a thronged metropolis or forsaken in a dinghy.
Your college choices may never matter again, in that resume-obsessed sense that corrupts so many decisions. But in far more important ways, those choices will always matter. You are free to be curious, and you have arrived at the best place on earth to indulge that curiosity. Your curiosity is not something to set aside while you do real work.
Your interests aren’t distractions; they’re the makings of an intellectual life that, if taken seriously, will help you make authentic, honest choices today. And today’s choices, made well, will lead to a more authentic, fully integrated future you.
College, for some, will be a way to get from point A to point B. That can work. Some may indeed know what point B will be. This college, however, is a powerful place to figure out point B’s and to imagine horizons well beyond B’s, G’s, and Z’s, beyond the PhD’s, LLC’s and law degrees.
I learned this late in the game and still feel robbed of much of my college experience as a result. Had I been a Georgetown undergraduate student, where people talk about formation, integration and becoming, I might have figured this out earlier. But even if it was late, I landed here, advising, deaning, teaching, living on campus, all of it at Georgetown. I didn’t foresee it, but I attribute this blessing to switching the autopilot off and daring to be interested in something.