“What do you really want to do?”
A good lecturer of mine asked me this question when I was consulting to him about my desire to pursue my Masters and several other options (I’m still thinking of academic career, nonetheless). I couldn’t reply straightaway and I just thought, ‘whoa, I haven’t heard that question from a teacher/educator for a while.’ Or at least it feels like it.
Within probably seconds, I tried recalling back what was it exactly that I liked and wanted to do in the future. I almost went back as far as the early childhood but luckily I stopped at high school. Not that I was totally sure about my goals and future plans at that time, but I think it’s a good sign that some of my interests have remained since then. Fast-forwarding to the sixth form and then uni, I thanked my flashbacks for assuring me. However, my skeptical side suddenly whispered to me: Wait a minute, are you sure this is what you want to do? Are you even really good at it? Don’t you think you have to be realistic? Do you think you can survive by choosing this?
I didn’t imagine it would be this hard to answer a simple question.
But I couldn’t make my lecturer wait any longer or let my eyes wander to his bookshelf for a long time so I started stammering some typical nervous words.
“Um, well, I like History and I like Social Science in general too so I’m not really sure…yet what I really want to do but – but, I’m open to learning things – anything related to those things, so yeah…”
Oh God, I’m so going to criticize myself later on. Wasn’t there any way to express your uncertainty in a much more poised way? You’ve graduated and you’re still so clumsy with words? What about all those essays you’ve done, eh? Okay, stop now, you self-conscious human being.
Like the super supportive lecturer he was, he nodded to that and said:
“Good, that’s good”
After that, my lecturer went on talking about his past experience as a student and while I was still beating myself up internally, I did catch some useful things that he shared.
He stressed that:
1. If I decide to do Masters, it would be wise to do so if only I have the intention of doing PhD.
2. I should have some specific idea of what I want to do since it’d be easier for him to give me further tips and advice & for me to find a good uni.
3. Try to reach out to people e.g. who have gone through the state I’m in.
4. Just continue researching about the field I’m interested in, fellowships, opportunities etc.
He was such a nice fellow that I feel I don’t deserve his advice. (Mostly, because of the late essays I’ve submitted to him.) He gave a lot of suggestions as well – practical ones – which I really appreciate and need at the moment, especially with the current society (budget, budget and budget). Of all things though, the one thing that remains in my mind even up till now, is the no.2.
I thought I knew myself pretty well,
I definitely know which food I like and dislike but four and a half years is quite a long time – and a lot of things happened in that period. Good stuff, CONFUSING stuff, weird and random stuff. There’s always the bad stuff, of course, but nothing that doesn’t teach me more about life. So, with all these stuff going on, I didn’t realize how much I’ve changed in terms of my mind and my perspective. I realized that I took the thought of my ‘present self’ for granted.
Interestingly, a friend has told me that I basically have a good sense of self and that I’m lucky because I seem to know where I’m going.
I spent some time afterwards thinking about the question that triggered back to the memory of childhood (I couldn’t stop myself. Childhood is precious) and moments where I found myself enjoying doing the things that I loved, my passion. Eventually, I was grateful that I gave that reply to my lecturer. It was true that I was still searching for something more and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
History was not even one my choices when I began my first year in the uni. (It was either Literature or Sociology initially) I’ve taken history before in the sixth form, and it was pretty torturing mainly because I had no idea what I was doing. I believe I managed to survive and pass because of a substitute teacher who turned out to be the best history teacher, past year papers and the less/no expectation that I was even going to pass the subject. Basically, it was like gambling back then and I was confident that I didn’t want to go through that anymore AGAIN.
Things, however, weren’t that predictable though.
What happened was that I…had what you call a change of heart. I gained my interest, or actually, renewed my interest in history somehow after taking Literature and Sociology classes. During my second year, I changed my major to History.
(There were a lot more happening before that but this is the simplest version I can tell, for now. It’s one of those memorable moments and to some extent, a life-changing decision story that I’m hoping to save for another day.)
Let’s just say I had a new understanding and a new perspective on the subject that I forgot about the horrifying experience during the sixth form because that memory became a new one. It wasn’t an excruciating memory anymore, it changed to a now-I-knew-why-I-didn’t-enjoy-history-memory-because-I-never-understood-it. Simple.
Despite that, I wouldn’t say I didn’t suffer anymore after changing my major. I was quite insecure in the beginning of my History major days, feeling that I was still a newbie history nerd and the books, ohmygod, the books. It really took a while to get used reading them. It was, however, more bearable because I actually found myself enjoying being a History major.
To start off, I like that the idea that the past shapes the present is being explained in so many ways. The more I read about the things that I wouldn’t have dared to before, the more I realize it makes so much sense to me. It filled some of the missing spots that I didn’t know were missing. History was a challenge that I didn’t know I would accept because of the misunderstanding/lack of understanding I had of what it was.
It’s ruthless, but it’s also profound. Like the realization I had when I took Sociology and Philosophy courses (‘Why did I just discover this stuff?’), it appeared like a riveting light bulb that glows pervasively in a good amount of space. The passion and the respect I have for this subject kept on increasing as I got to learn more about it.
Remembering all this is truthfully a bit difficult because it forces me to seriously consider my real passion which would and should help me to take another step in the world. The reluctance, I think, is because of the idea that I have to choose just one thing and forget about the others that I equally love.
Though it may be inaccurate to think so but there’s the dilemma, I suppose.
The Social Sciences/Humanities area is something that I hold close to my heart. My thirst and curiosity in knowledge is much largely owed to them. Unfortunately, the times that I had enjoyed misusing back in the younger days had made me miss the chance to learn their pre-requisites. So I guess I’m very much on the side of ‘I’m still learning’ than ‘I know what I want to do and I want to do it’.
[To be continued]