Many people spend a lifetime chasing an arbitrary symbol of a well-lived life called “success”. Yet, many have failed to define such term. In Samantha’s world, living everyday of your life to its full potential is as important as searching for success at the end of the tunnel.
I met Samantha on a cold winter day at the Writing Center. At the time, she struck me with the impression of a very quiet, yet clever woman. Only until last week, we had the chance to grab lunch together. With a soft and warm voice, Samantha traced back to every single piece of her memories of the past decisions that eventually led her to this exact moment: “I have always been passionate about journalism, yet, for most of my adolescent life, I had my feet firmly planted in the undecided section.”
Samantha is a junior at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is majoring in Political Science and minoring in English with a focus on Professional Writing. During the fall semester of 2018, she started working at a local newspaper department as an intern. At the beginning of Spring 2019, she started working there as an editor aid. From 2018 until now, Samantha has been working as a staff tutor at the Writing Center.
Her story began in the spring semester of 2018, when Samantha started tutoring in the Writing Center. At the time, she was a sophomore with no distinct goals for her upcoming years of college.
“At first, I was energetic for this, but it quickly falls apart as the semester goes on,” Samantha confessed. “Don’t get me wrong. The Writing Center is an energetic playground for scholars who seek guidance, and I really enjoy working there with other tutors to help students. It was not about the course contents or the workload. It’s that something is still missing, and I could not find it just yet.”
Everyone goes to college for a different reason. For people who already knew what they wanted to do, college is when they acquire and refine skills for their future career paths. For some, it may be an extra chance to discover themselves a little more. Whatever the reason is, college is believed to be every student’s last chance to discover their life purposes and scratch out their own paths. For Samantha, she enjoyed the honor of working as a tutor and at the time. However, in the long run, she still found herself wanting more than just… “this”.
“It’s like a beat was missing from the song, you know?”
In the fall semester of 2018, Samantha started working as an editorial intern for her local newspaper. It was a life-changing event for her. She was very excited as she had finally gotten to do what she wanted most: to be involved in journalism. I saw a spark in her eyes as she spoke about the experience.
“I really enjoy talking to people from all walks of life,” Samantha explained, “I think everyone has a story to tell, and my writing skills help me give a voice to people who often go unnoticed by society at large”.
I noticed Samantha’s expression as if there was something else she wanted to share with me. I asked her as if she was comfortable with the interview. She hesitated for a while and decided to open up to me about what was on her mind. “After I have worked for more than a semester, I don’t really think it’s something I would consider a career. It’s more like this form of expression that will stay with me in whatever line of work I go into,” Samantha said, “But, now, I don’t know what I want to do after graduation anymore.”
For most of whom are lucky enough to have proper parental guidance, our lives have been planned ahead since we set foot into kindergarten. One big step of the plan includes “getting into college”. This step is so popular in every household’s plan that banks are providing long-term saving plans for parents to save up money for their children’s college education. For years, we have always been told that college was the answer. That college was the key to success. That college could prepare us for adulthood. That we would be assured a place in society after college. However, when we come to think of it, we can see that we are all following the same formula for a guaranteed stable life, and, yet, a sense of uncertainty still creeps up on us occasionally. We ran on a competition for college. After a long run, we finally settled down our seats in a college. We went to class. We did all the work we were told to do. Now what?
This question is still a mystery to most of college students, and Samantha is not an exception. She did all the steps that were thought to be perfect for her resume: get into college, get a job on-campus, get an internship, create connections. However, those tasks do not seem to give her the answer she was looking for.
“It’s like I was lost in the woods without a torch. I just kept on running towards the dark, praying that I was on the right direction.”
Us millennials often find ourselves lost in the middle of our journeys seeking “success”. We encounter obstacles along our ways and we immediately doubt our potential. We rush into finding the answer and we often forget to be patient. We crave for the outcome so badly that we forget to enjoy the process. We are all caught up in the rat race society put us in that we forget to step aside and walk our own paths. We make impulsive decisions and spend days crying over it. We feel miserable, tired, and confused, but aren’t those moment that make youth wild and memorable?
“I never let the past interfere with the present. Everything happened for a reason. I could have never known what I really wanted if I never made decisions that I did not like.”
College education has become an enormous industry that produces qualified work force on a massive scale. College graduates are products being placed upon the shelves in the market, where employers are the customers hunting for a good deal. To compete for a “customer”, these “products” must meet up with certain social expectations, must have certain required skills, and must come from a popular school “brand”. This turns the market into an intergenerational competition as every parent wants their children to get into the most prestigious universities for the best education. As a result, college admissions bribery becomes short-cuts for people who want a guaranteed place in society without putting forth the effort. These people fail to see the true meaning of college: to support and provide students with knowledge so that they can become a better version of themselves. It does not matter which college you go to. It is what you make out of college that matters most.
“Schools often do not serve to disrupt what is happening in society. They are often designed to replicate systems and structures of our society.”
Samantha represents the part of millennials who are clever, smart, and on top of their games, yet, are still struggling with their life purposes. Although college may give us knowledge and prepare us better for the “market”, it is not a one size fits all kind of shirt for everyone. We still have to rely on ourselves to draw our distinct paths, and some of them might not include the obstacle called “college”. The most important thing a pilgrim can do is to work hard and embrace all the simple beauty of life along the journey.
“That’s ‘success’ to me.”