Grad fears and existential woes: the unaccustomed Asian kid’s perspective

As I walked across King’s College Circle the other day, I caught sight of the familiar downtown Toronto backdrop sparkling in the clear night sky. When I graduate, I will miss this place, I thought. Shocking, I know.

Some of my experiences here may have bred in me a sense of bitterness, but they’ve also taught me that the worst experiences can also be the best. Let me explain. The ability to see the Ultimate Good within the bad is strongly and inversely correlated with how much time is left before the experience is over. Naturally, since I am set to graduate in a couple of months, my appreciation for the current state of my life has reached an all-time high.

However, the certainty that accompanies any ending also comes with consequences, a prominent one being the uncertainty of what happens when one door closes and another a million others open. Fear of the unknown, therefore, makes me reluctant to graduate. Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben was only partly right – greater responsibility not only accompanies greater power, but also greater freedom.

For the last 16 years I’ve accepted a full-time education as my life’s primary purpose. So the immediate and sudden lack of education is starting to resemble something like an impending doom. It’s like I’ve been speeding down a dark tunnel hoping to get to the end of it and be free. Yet now that I finally see light at the end of the tunnel, it’s starting to get so bright that it’s blinding. And soon…soon I’ll just be a tiny particle adrift in the sea of chaos that makes up infinity. Who am I? What is to become of me? What am I doing here?

What is the meaning of life?!

All of this has made me realize that as exciting as graduation sounds, I’m not ready to make the leap. This implies a 5th year. A victory lap. Just the sound of that makes me cringe. After all, I am Asian, and it’s an integral part of my culture to look unfavourably upon the act of “taking longer than usual,” especially when it comes to education. It’s just uncool to take a gap year or do an extra year of school. Basically, anything that deviates from the “norm” is unacceptable.

Ultimately, ya gotta do whatcha gotta do. Throughout my past couple of years of soul-searching, I’ve found that if you believe in your dreams goals so much that you are willing to openly defend their validity to just about anyone (including your parents…oh the irony), then not only will people cease to challenge your goals, but you’ll already have made it half way there.

You see, most people do have the capacity to achieve their goals. The bigger problem is that most people do not know what it is that they want to achieve. In this sense, if staying for a 5th year is largely beneficial, then by all means do it. Consider the larger scheme of things: sacrifice a little in the present and maybe your future will thank you for it.

The same goes for anyone who’s not graduating but wishes to switch programs. Such a huge undertaking requires a lot of introspection and logical evaluation of the consequences. But don’t be scared to listen to your heart. It is definitely admirable for someone to pull through four years in a cut-throat program like Engineering Science, but focus on the present: are you happy with yourself by choosing to take on such a challenge? If you want to pull the “I’m just being practical and realistic” argument, remember that only certain programs offer heavy components of applied knowledge and hands-on experience. For the rest of the programs out there, like the majority offered by the Faculty of Arts and Science, you probably won’t be able to apply your course-based knowledge directly to a specific job after you graduate. So why not learn something you’re deeply passionate about instead?

More and more, I’m starting to sense that on top of achieving, our undergraduate years should be spent exploring. Explore your options, take it one step at at a time and be patient about knowing yourself, who you are and who you are not. Don’t jump to conclusions and grab onto random goals like “I must get into medical school” just because everyone else seems to. Trust me, most people don’t really know what’s going on with their lives, even if they come across as self-confident and driven.

And above all, make your education here worth it, even though not everything is offered to you on a silver platter. It’s true what they say: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.


4 comments on “Grad fears and existential woes: the unaccustomed Asian kid’s perspective

  1. Excellent post Lucy! It’s very refreshing when people think of the best route for them in life rather than following everyone else just because it’s the “traditional” path.

    Best wishes for the end of this year and for next year. Undergrad years here at this beautiful university are tough *but* they are also some of the most transformational and in some cases even most worry free.

  2. I like this post Lucy! I appreciate your optimism and wisdom and I completely agree with the above. On the rare occasion I can’t help but think that I rather be anywhere else but here. Most days though I believe that life as a twentysomething couldn’t be better. I love being a student too…and this is why I will be prolonging my education for as long as I can/as long as my parents will stand it. 😛

  3. Great post Lucy! I was actually in Engineering Science, but I switched to the Faculty of Arts and Science, and boy, I’m so much happier. You’re right in that once I stopped thinking “I have to be practical and realistic”, and started thinking “I should study what I like”, life got a whole lot better.

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