Humblest apologies from your friend Commander Logic as I figured out exactly what the eff WordPress was up to and could not locate the “preview” button. Away we go!
Dear Captain Awkward,
I need your help. It is three months till I graduate and I hate my degree and I hate the course I am doing and I have done for the last few years. I am the first person in my family who had the potential to go to university and to do a hard Science degree, I was always interested in Science and Biology and I thought it would transition well, but it hasn’t. I can’t tell my family how much I hate it because they are so proud of me and I really don’t want to disappoint them, I can’t tell my friends because there is a pervasive sense of elitism and I am afraid they will think I am worthless. My grades are not brilliant and I have only been passing by accident and I am afraid that my life will be ruined because my degree grade will not be high enough – people will know I am a fake and a phoney.
All this would be bearable if I knew what the hell I wanted to do with my life after – but I have not the faintest idea. I am currently making efforts into arranging some sort of treatment certain mental health issues (depression that runs in the family) and other family issues, but I feel I can’t admit this to anyone and I can’t let anyone know how badly this shakes me because they will consider me a failure.
How does one figure out what to do with one’s life? Is there a plan or some sort of code that helps you realise your ultimate purpose? Stupid question, but any advice would be worth hearing.
Lost and Confused
Let’s start with this: YES IT IS GOOD THAT YOU ARE ARRANGING THERAPY. Arrange the fuck out of that therapy and go to it. Going to therapy is not a failure. Say it out loud for me, okay? Going to therapy is not a failure. You say yourself that you feel you have no one to talk to who won’t judge you, and a therapist (well, decent human ones) will not judge you. You need someone like that because everyone needs someone like that, not because you’re a failure. Got it?
Now, your questions, I’m going to answer your second one first:
“Is there a plan or code that helps you realize your ultimate purpose?”
Next questio- Oh, fine.
Stories are assholes. You hear a story or the same framework of a story your whole life and it gets under your skin and into your DNA, and it makes you think that the story is how things are. You are the hero of your own story, and in every hero’s story, the hero is The Chosen One with a Destiny that will be fulfilled. Harry gets a letter telling him that he’s a wizard. Buffy gets a Watcher who tells her she’s the Slayer. Luke is told over and over again how the force is strong in him, be a Jedi. It’s big! It’s obvious! It’s momentous! It’s totally not how things actually work.
Here’s my story of being good at math and science:
I was the only kindergartener in the whole district who answered the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “Scientist.” I skipped the 8th grade, breezed by AP Chem and AP Bio, applied to Harvard (waitlisted, but did not ultimately get in), started pre-Med, got As in a VERY competitive chemistry course, and decided that I hated everything and double majored in English and Theater instead.
ENGLISH AND THEATER. You can still hear the echoes of my mother’s howls of indignation in some areas of the Upper Midwest.
I didn’t see how those degrees would transition to anything either, but you know what? I am a killer project manager because of all my theater work. How could I or my mom have known that wrangling 15-50 flaky people to make something specific happen at a specific time and place would pay off as an experience? Would 16yo me be appalled that I have not even come CLOSE to curing cancer? You bet. But am I happy? Completely.
What I’m saying here is that you don’t know what will happen, you don’t know your purpose, and that’s okay. You don’t need an ultimate purpose, which is kind of an end-of-life-what’s-it-all-mean sort of thing. You need a goal.
Which is what your second question was about.
“How does one figure out what to do with one’s life?”
You don’t know what the hell you want to do with your life. Welcome to the club, population 95% of humanity. People who know what it is they want, and then succeed wildly at it are pretty goddamn rare, and certified letters telling you what you’re good at are even rarer. The fact that 95% of us don’t know what to do should clue you into the fact that this is the least stupid question you could ask.
I will refer you to another post I made on this subject, How to get unstuck.
To sum up:
You are under extreme pressure right now, and that is no way to make decisions. So.
1 – Take a holiday from responsibility for a short while (3 weeks is my recommendation for complete decompression, but the important thing is to have a concrete end date so you don’t end up mired in apathy)
2 – Don’t think about the future during that time
3 – Do small things that you think will make you happy (walks, conversations with strangers, museum visits, road trips, other travel, all day in a movie theater, whatever)
4 – At the end of your holiday (NOT BEFORE) begin thinking about what would make you happy as a career.
5 – Get a job, not necessarily related to your career, so that you can support yourself while you figure things out/follow your dream.
But also, since you are still in school, I will make this appeal: Stick it out. It’s only three months, and then you will have your degree, hated or not. Carry with you the knowledge that you do not have to do anything further in Science or Biology, and you can take your holiday right after graduation. Your mantra for any inevitable questions at graduation parties can be “I’m going to take a well-deserved break for [Time] and then figure that out.” (Also “That’s an interesting idea! I’ll think about that!” You do not have to actually think about their boring/annoying/horrifying idea for your future.)
I want to spend a minute with this: my life will be ruined because my degree grade will not be high enough Oh, honey. No. I’m trying to figure out how you could ruin a life with a 2.5 rather than a 3.5 GPA and I just can’t. Also, if your grades are high enough then you get… more hated classes? Why would you do that? And if your grades are too low for the degree at all then you get… no more hated classes? I’m not saying fail on purpose, but maybe just stop leaning on the “grades!” panic button, and relax.
Finally, I want you to know that the world will not end if you disappoint your family. Your friends will not think you are worthless (if they do, then they are not your friends). Imposter syndrome is something all us relatively intelligent people face. And your ultimate purpose is….
To be yourself. As fully and happily as you can.
Jedi Hugs, from one who knows,
P.S. The Cap sent me a lovely link that may help you in your thinkings. Check it out!