Sep 8, 2011
That fear of “falling behind”
Class started today and before we know it, a lot of us on campus will be engulfed in the so-called MIT bubble. Which basically means, getting so into the hectic rhythm of classes, psets, extracurricular commitments, that "soon it's like, 'Oh yeah! The rest of the world! I forgot it existed! People live in houses! Dogs exist! Babies exist!" Here, I am quoting fellow blogger Elizabeth. Every time I see a baby on campus, it's like Whoa, little creature, what are you.
Anyways, besides just missing things outside the bubble, I'm increasingly feeling like it's also easy to get too-focused inside bubble. People who come to MIT are usually ambitious, have goals and dreams, and are willing to commit to making those dreams happen. For me, "being an architect" was not my childhood dream, or teenage dream. I've just always loved art and design and cities, and in the last year of high school, somehow synthesized those likes into "architecture" ...and thought studying architecture @ MIT would be really cool. (And so far, it has been really cool.) But still, it's like, I've been trying so hard to do well in school, be productive in the summers and you know, keep moving towards that "architect" goal. But this summer, interning in China allowed me to really step back and re-evaluate what I want to do.
And I finally understood the appeal of a semester or year off. Because once you get into the MIT momentum, it seems like there's only pushing forward. You don't want to ever feel like you're falling behind. And really, you can't afford to (with the default fear of not graduating on time, etc.) The fast-paced nature of MIT makes "big changes" an intimidating task.
But being in China this summer was really inspiring in a way, because this was a country with soooo many people (still an understatement) in a wide variety of career fields. People are really practical but also "literal" in terms of their career choices. People who want to cook learn to be chefs, people who like to draw practice to be artists, people who want to make a lot of money go into the financial sector, people who care about research or want job stability go into academia and people who find out they don't like a field or said field is not faring so well change fields in a moment's time. I guess that's basically the case everywhere, but it was just highly visible in the current Chinese culture - where people are reconciling the pragmatic need to be employed with the newer, perhaps more modern/Western mindset that one can and even should follow his or her passions.
It's not that my internship made me like architecture less. In fact, I actually really like and admire the process of designing and turning concepts into real constructed spaces where people can use. But the fact that billions of lives in China were changing every second just reminded me how it's never too late to be in charge of what you want to do. And that on the flip side of fearing "falling behind" is being constrained by the pressure of following a well-planned path that may or may not still be what you want.
I picked Architecture before I came in to MIT, looked around, and liked it. I declared course 4 with no hesitation and was relieved that the decision came so easy (whereas my friends were having dilemmas with 7 or 10 or 20 or 15 …or 21 or 2? or some combination of those). I'm not even a senior yet, but at this half-way point, I would tell my freshman self to explore more and don't be rigid for convenience sake. Right now, I'm enthusiastic about finishing my major in Architecture, minor in Management. But I'm also looking into Comparative Media Studies. There are so many possibilities with all of those.
I met with my advisor yesterday, and at some point he said, "When the time comes, I'll tell you why it's better to work before grad school". I think he by "time" he means registration day in the spring term. Meanwhile, it's going to be a constant calibration process.
P.S. I'm not especially advocating a gap year or a semester off, but just that don't let the fear of falling behind keep you from stopping to explore other options. I honestly really love the entire design process, especially the design mentality of looking at things through different lenses and rehashing them until they're just right. And it's exactly this mentality I want to share with everyone.