Know What Fills You: Finding Sanity in the Post-Secondary Rat Race
I stared at the blank word document, the pulsating cursor taunting me with its rhythmic disappearance. In one thousand characters or less, I had to tell the admissions committee of the Ontario Veterinary College what role I hope to play in society as a vet. Since the age of twelve, I frequently concocted successive plans for my career - most involving prestige and a hefty income. I got up from my creaky wicker-backed chair, lifted my laptop off my wooden desk, and resettled myself on my chaise lounge.
Most people my age have heard phrases like “follow your passion” so many times that we’ve become numb to the principle. We try to choose an area of study in which we have some interest, but in today’s highly rigid, every-man-for-himself post-secondary education system, the notion of “following our passion” quickly disappears. We painstakingly scramble in an academic rat race - a trial run of adult working life where grades on tests become currency and status. Parents, professors, and supervisors all weigh in on what path we should take, while a constant workload keeps stress hormones coursing through our veins. In this cacophony, most of us either ignore or subdue our own quiet inner voice.
I ruminated on the chaise lounge for fifteen minutes. All of a sudden, I started typing, furiously. It wasn’t an essay, it wasn’t polished, and it certainly wasn’t less than one thousand characters. For the first time, I blocked out the powerful external cacophony, and filled the word document with a messy and long-winded stream of thought.
If you can, I want you to grab something to write with and something to write on. Divide the space in two. Title the upper area ‘things that fill me’ and the lower area ‘things that drain me.’ Do your best to quiet all the noise, literal and psychological. Start writing, putting down whatever each category brings to mind. You could jot down activities, people, places, or principles… there are no rules. You’ll know when the exercise is over and you’ve expressed what you had to.
Sitting on that chaise lounge, energetically striking the keys of my sticker-covered laptop, I made the realization that my career path need not be illustrious, and need not make me rich. If I can create a comfortable life for myself, and use my aptitudes to reduce as much animal and human suffering as one person can, I’ll be satisfied. In terms of career, I’ll be filled.
Oh wait, won’t I need a soulmate? Let’s have that conversation another day :)
Read your list. Put it up on your wall. Look at it every day. Obviously you or I can’t change the reality of post-secondary life (yet). Nonetheless, I hope that my words and your list will help you quiet the noise and live according to your values rather than the expectations of the system.