On a train in Spain, I had the privilege of striking up a conversation with a German university student. We talked about many things, but she said one thing about university life that really struck a cord with me. She said that college is the time of your life when you break away from the sheltered life you enjoyed at home and begin discovering your true personality – your likes and dislikes, your political inclinations, your beliefs and convictions, your idiosyncrasies and your aspirations – and that you therefore assert your independence and prepare yourself for a plunge into the real world.
As I stand at this important juncture in my life, I am poignantly aware that what she said rings true. When I came to Colgate four years ago, I did not have a clear picture of what set me apart from others. Granted, I had a vague idea of what I liked and disliked, and kind of thought I knew what I wanted to do in college, but I had not had the opportunity to explore and test out what I thought I liked, and to separate illusion from reality.
As early as junior high, I knew that I had a love of and a knack for learning languages, but paradoxically enough, all throughout high school and into the beginning of my freshman year here I had firmly decided to major in anything but a language. I figured I should get the best of both worlds by majoring in something else and learning languages on my own time. With that in mind, I took no language courses my freshman fall.
A conversation with my academic advisor, however, helped knock some sense into me. He, a physics professor, asked me to imagine that Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of all time, had majored in art. The patent absurdity of my ways became all too clear to me, and I signed up for a French course and a Spanish course in the spring.
While I absolutely loved both of those classes, by the time sophomore year rolled around I was still unimpressed with the prospect of majoring in one language. Lapsing into irrationality again, I took no language courses that fall. Although I generally found my classes enjoyable, almost none of them interested me enough to convince me to major in that field. By the spring, I could no longer afford to remain in limbo. I took some more French and Spanish classes, and with the help of the Division of the Humanities declared a topical concentration in Romance languages. That appeased me somewhat – at least I wasn’t majoring in just one language – but I still wasn’t absolutely positive I had done the right thing.
Why, I found myself wondering, was I vacillating so much? Why was it that, at the end of two years of college, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do? The answer to that question has only gradually become clear to me, over the course of the next two years. In the summer after my sophomore year, I took up a new language (German) at Middlebury College. I spent my entire junior year abroad, changing my spring destination halfway through the fall semester. In the meantime, I had changed my major to German, and I struggled at the start of my senior year with a decision as to whether to double major.
While reading “The Tyranny of Choice,” an article by Barry Schwartz, I felt as if he were speaking to me when he mentioned “maximizers,” whom he defined as “people whose goal is to get the best possible result when they make decisions.” How true, I thought. As a college student, I had unrealistically tried to maximize the benefit of every decision I made, and that inevitably led me to question each and every one of those decisions.
Without my college career, I would not have realized that I am a maximizer. Luckily, the cost of the discovery has been minimal: a few insipid classes and countless hours of contemplation. I now try to remind myself daily that it won’t be possible to do everything that interests me – and, more importantly, to always be able to predict the best decisions – so I should choose one thing that appeals to me, go for it and not look back.
My maximizing attitude extended itself to my involvement on campus. For the first couple of years, I joined too many campus groups than was healthy for me, trying – of course – to get the most out of my college experience. Fortunately, I wound up toning that down. One activity that managed to survive my incessant vacillations has been The Maroon-News. I have been a member of the staff ever since freshman year, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every Thursday night spent in the office editing, not laying out, and writing last-minute articles.
I will end my tenure as a Maroon-News staff member with the fondest of memories: grammar arguments with Vanessa, attempts to clean Atit’s mouth, “In the Light” dates with Ashley, Coop adventures with Meg, messages in Arabic on Sumner’s voicemail, pizza-order manipulations with Jill, NFL draft discussions with Juliana, late-night edits of Murph’s articles, ethnicity banter with Kimmy, nitpicking with Peter – I mean Vance, secretive plans with Jessie, the delight of relieving Frank of final edits, our one pub night at Jeff’s, and reminders from Steve – our co-editor-in-chief par excellence – that only English is to be spoken in the office.
I will be eternally grateful to Colgate for helping me discover my personality, and at the same time giving me the privilege of being a Maroon-Newser. Although my propensity to maximize would have me try to cram as many reflections as possible in this piece, I’ll stop right here – because I now know better.