I was reading through my old blog posts and realized that it’s been a while (read: the entire semester) since I’ve blogged about my thoughts and feelings on things, so in honor of New Year’s Eve, I decided to reflect on the sidequests I planned at the beginning of the year.
Sidequest 1: Learn the building numbers. I would still consider this one incomplete because I’ve had to sheepishly check the MIT map saved on my phone more recently and more frequently than I’d like to admit. For the most part, though, I generally know the number of the building that I happen to be standing in.
Sidequest 2: Get my Pirate Certificate. Technically, this is only 25% complete because I only got through the fencing PE class. However, I am now on the varsity fencing team, and that’s arguably cooler than getting a Pirate Certificate (at least, that’s what I tell myself).
Sidequest 3: Collect 60 free t-shirts. I have a bare minimum of 10 free t-shirts, and that’s only counting the ones that I wear on a semi-frequent basis. I’d say I’m doing pretty well on this.
Sidequest 4: Get a cool internship/externship. I’m still working on this one. Hopefully, this will be complete by the summer.
Sidequest 5: Pull a cool hack. Only Jack Florey will know.
Sidequest 6: Study abroad as many times as physically possible. Incomplete, but I still have an abundance of time and places left to go.
Sidequest 7: Beat Imposter’s Syndrome. While I definitely don’t think I’ve beat it (and to some extent, I don’t think I ever will), I’ve learned that if you’re bad at something at MIT, there will always be somewhere very near by who is extremely good at it and will, in the vast majority of cases, be willing to help you learn.
Sidequest 8: Survive the winter without a winter coat. I’m doing better at this than I expected - a few weeks ago, I made a trip to 7-11 in a shirt, a long jacket, and no pants in sub-freezing weather. In general, however, going out in single-digit weather in just a sweatshirt and a hat is probably not the best idea.
Sidequest 9: Build a thing. I built (with a LOT of help) a shelf for my loft. Anybody who knows what it looks like will know that it’s the jankiest shelf to ever be constructed on this earth, but since its utility to effort ratio approaches infinity, I consider it a success.
Sidequest 10: Find something I genuinely love to do. Incomplete, with the following addendum. (Warning: I’m about to wax philosophical for what will probably be several paragraphs. Proceed at your own risk.)
This time last year, I was finished with all my final exams for the semester and had been admitted into my dream school. Like many of the current EA 2022s, I was excitedly making plans for college life - what course I wanted to be, what dorm I wanted to live in, what clubs I wanted to join. Some things are going according to those plans - I declared myself as Course 6-3 (computer science) a few weeks ago, I joined an a cappella group, and I did wind up living in East Campus (it was love at first sight, and the EC community is by far the best part of my MIT experience). Some things are not going according to those plans - I changed my mind about being a Japanese minor when I realized the sheer magnitude of Comparative Media Studies classes I want to take, and fencing takes up most of my extracurricular commitment, so I can’t join most of the clubs I was interested in. Plans change, and that’s fine.
The biggest difference between this year and last year, however, is best expressed in the following analogy. For me, high school was a lot like rowing upstream in a paddleboat - it was exceedingly difficult and tiring at times, and I was often tempted to just give up and let the river wash me back downstream. But I had a map in hand, and I was determined to reach the X I had marked on it - MIT, my dream school. As we all know, I did eventually make it there.
Now, let’s describe MIT as an ocean of possibility. Once you’re in it, you can basically head in any direction you want and land on solid ground. Such is the nature of this school, and this is one of many reasons it’s one of the best colleges out there. However, to go back to the analogy: once I reached the figurative ocean, my boat broke down, dumping me into the deep end and soaking my map, leaving me paddling in no particular direction whatsoever.
I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this way. Honestly, it’s only after the whirlwind of finals died down and I was left with just my own thoughts that I realized it myself.
So over break, while I’ve been sitting in my room stewing in a mixture of existential YouTube videos, bad TV serials, and video games, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions. What do I want to do with my life? Once I find what I want to do with my life, how will I go about achieving it? Will I ever find what I want to do with my life? What if I don’t? And in the end, does any of this really matter because life is absurd and we’re all just oversized collections of cells piloted by a poorly defined consciousness?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions yet, and I don’t expect to for a long time. Realistically, it’s my freshman year in college, and I still have a lot of time to figure all of this stuff out. But the transition from having a nebulous yet tangible goal in mind to drifting aimlessly has been somewhat disheartening. I’m more than a little excited for IAP/spring semester to start, because then I’ll simply be too busy to think about my future and what I want to do with it.
My biggest fear is that I’ll never find that mysterious something which I came all the way to MIT to find - that something which I would be willing to work on for the rest of my life. The pessimistic side of me likes to believe that it simply doesn’t exist and that I’ll wind up selling my soul to big tech, but I’m hoping that’s not the case. Maybe it’s out there waiting for me, and I still have to fight through the sea of GIRs and Course 6 requirements to get there. Maybe I have to take a few steps off of the beaten path and dive into some of my interests. I’m not sure. I guess I’ll have to find out for myself, and that’s what I plan to spend the next year doing.
So here’s to the new year and all the opportunity it brings - new classes, new friends, and new paths to explore. If there are any of you reading this who feel the same way as I do: we're all in this together. Maybe we'll start getting some answers to all the questions we've been asking. And maybe - just maybe - we'll even complete Sidequest 10.