May 9, 2008

Four more years

[img id="80582" align="alignleft"] Sometime during your fourth year, you’re bound to have The Conversation. One day you’re walking to campus, thinking about the latest bit of Plato that you’ve read (or, given that you’re a fourth-year, wondering what time the Pub opens). And then you run into an acquaintance—perhaps some old suitemate from your days at Max East whom you never really liked but are socially obligated to exchange pleasantries with. The Conversation goes something like this:

Him: Hey! It’s been a while!

You (feigning interest): Yeah, hey!

Him: How’s it going?

You: Well, just thinking about Plato/alcohol. You?

Him: Not much, I was just posting some particularly subversive musings on my blog. Do you read my blog?

You: Oh, you know, my Internet has been really spotty recently….

Him: No worries. So, do you know what you’re doing with your life?

You: Er, I’m working on it. You?

Him: Yeah, I got a job lined up at a consulting firm.

At this point, you distinctly remember why you disliked this person. The smugness, the self-fascination, the fact that he’s wearing a sweater vest—there is no reason in the world why you should care what this person is doing with his life. And yet, the update destroys your soul. He’s going into consulting?

After four years of college, what do you have to show for yourself? The hours spent at the library, the nights of inebriated Mario Kart at a friend’s apartment—all of it wasted time. You should have been out making connections, getting Metcalf internships, and doing whatever it is smug sweater vest–wearing folks do to score jobs at consulting firms. You’re so incompetent that you even allowed your useless first-year acquaintance to become far more important than you. And he’ll be making so much money! Let’s spare ourselves the clichés about how money isn’t everything—at this point in your life, being rich seems like a fantastic idea.

The truth is, it’s horribly depressing to see your fellow classmates develop firm life plans while you’re still in college student mode. I don’t have any interest in being a consultant; I’m not even sure what they do. So why do I become intensely jealous when I find out that someone else is becoming one?

This depression is probably unavoidable. Many of us go to college so we can grow up. We expect a certain sense of clarity in exchange for all of the studying and melancholy we’ve endured over the past four years. This makes it disheartening to go through your fourth year in a state of confusion. Your family really paid all that money so you could end up just as muddled as before? The feeling gets much worse when you see your acquaintances, or even friends, find definite plans. The distinction seems clear: They did something right, they went through college correctly, and you didn’t. Now they are reaping the intended benefits, and you are not.

Clarity, though, seems to be overrated. The point of college is not necessarily to clarify your life. Not all of us are ready to grow up, even after four years. In college, you should be introspective. You should learn about yourself, change your mind about some things, take a few neat classes, and have a good time with your friends. If after four years of that, you happen to end up with a life plan, great. But four years is an arbitrary period of time. At some point in the near future, the “confused” phase of life will be over. Just as you left awkward, surly adolescence to enter awkward, confused young-adulthood, you will soon become an awkward adult with at least a vague life plan. We will all grow up, we will find out what we like doing in life, and we’ll be happy. What’s the big deal if some of us are a few years late?

And so, I wouldn’t worry about the consulting guy. The next time I see him, I’m just going to ignore him. Literally. I mean, what kind of businesses are consulting recent University of Chicago grads? Especially grads who wear sweater vests! I have confidence that I will grow up and will gain some modicum of clarity—but I’ll probably never understand why adults are so tolerant of the most repellent among the U of C student body.