Now that you have arrived at your destination, after a gruelling academic journey, and have reached the sought-after place called the college, time to relax and have some fun, isn’t it? You’re free of the scholastic rut of the school where you were forced to study the subjects you disliked. You’re now in a much more diverse space and seek to craft your own identity. You get to pick your own course, make new friends and explore new possibilities.
But then, a month into college and you’re filled with self-doubt all over again. Before stepping onto Grade XI or PU, you mulled over your options and finally selected a stream that you hoped to pursue in college. Some of you may have been forced into selecting Science or Commerce by your family members, while others may have opted for a stream only to discover that these subjects didn’t really captivate you.
When in doubt
If you are a first-year student and are happy with your college and the chosen stream, then all is well, at least for the imminent future. But what if you are enrolled in college and are still overcome with doubt or a niggling discomfort? Did I make the right choice? Am I really enjoying what I am studying? Do I have an aptitude for Law or should I have done Economics instead? Aren’t my friends who haven’t opted to go to a hostel happier at home? Should I take a year off and reapply to my dream course?
And, what’s worse is your fears intensify when you see Instagram posts by peers who seem to have it all set in a perfect manner. Posts with captions like ‘simply loving college’ or ‘best course ever’, accompanied by pictures of happy faces, fill you with a vague unease. Why aren’t you feeling so assured and secure?
Now is the time to remember, it’s been only a month into college, so don’t get unduly stressed if these concerns run through your mind every now and then. While I must confess that I am not a big fan of new-age acronyms like FOBO (fear of better options), it certainly does capture the anxieties of students while making one of the most crucial decisions of their lives. In today’s hyperconnected world, FOBO plagues the most mundane of decisions. Is the deal on Amazon better than the one on Flipkart? What if the online bags don’t feel right when they arrive?
Yes, we are spoilt for choice. And, that puts pressure on us to make the best decision. After all, the courses we choose in college have far-reaching consequences that may impact the rest of our lives. So, shouldn’t you be absolutely sure that you made the best decision?
In an interview with The New York Times by Tim Herrera, Patrick McGinnis, who coined the twin terms of FOMO(fear of missing out) and FOBO, says students are often “paralysed at the prospect of actually committing to something,” because they are always scouting for the “absolutely perfect option.” This can lead to chronic indecisiveness as nobody can be absolutely certain about practically anything, let alone something as complex as your career.
That said, you can always ask yourself if you absolutely detest your course. While a month is too early to reach a conclusion, you may ask yourself the same question at the end of the first semester. If you feel that you don’t want to attend college, or if your courses are filling you with dread, or if you simply cannot see yourself pursuing your chosen field for another three or four years, then it might be advisable to explore other tracks. But don’t take this decision on a whim. Write down the positives and negatives of your course or college at the end of a semester and then take a decision that is based on reason and reflection.
Often, when we make decisions in life, we don’t have to necessarily find the ‘best’ possible option. Picking what McGinnis calls the ‘mostly fine decision’ is usually okay for most life choices, including your field of study. While your chosen stream in college does indeed impact your career, you may take note that many people switch tracks later in life. So, no road is really closed as long as you have a flexible and an open mind.
Explore diverse groups
Many first-year students may also find that they are fine with their course but are not really happy in college as they haven’t found a peer group that resonates with them. Remember that it takes time to get to know and make friends. If you are not comfortable with the set of people you have met in the first month, don’t lose heart. Colleges are usually pulsing with students with varied interests. Invest time and effort in meeting as many new people as possible. Also, avoid being overly judgemental about people based on first impressions.
Finally, you have to understand that moving from school to college involves multiple changes. Writer William Bridges reminds us in his book Transitions that while changes are situational, transitions necessitate psychological shifts. When we are at “turning points” in our lives, we must undergo a “natural process of disorientation and reorientation.” While our lives can change externally almost instantaneously, our internal adjustment is bound to take time. So, be patient, pause and ponder the pros and cons of your choices, knowing that “good enough” is often more prudent than pursuing perfection.
(The author is director, PRAYATNA, Bengaluru)