It happened during my first semester of freshman year.
I was sitting on the fourth floor of Middleton with my economics textbook on the desk in front of me.
I was reading the words on the page but not absorbing any of them. The time on the clock was ticking by, and I was accomplishing next to nothing.
I came to the realization that I not only hated economics, but I hated all the classes I was taking. I was pressured by college counselors, peers and my parents to choose a major — business — that in no way reflected my personal interests.
So right there, on the fourth floor of Middleton, is when it happened: My anxiety finally reached its boiling point.
A moment of complete mental exhaustion, brought upon by fear of my imminent failure. A moment actuated by one daunting question:
“What the hell am I going to do with my life?”
It’s a loaded question, and one that, for reasons beyond my understanding, people are expected to know the answer to fresh out of high school.
My senior year of high school was one of the most stressful years of my life. People kept asking, “Where are you going to college next fall? What will you be studying? What career path will you choose?”
Somewhere between the tears and stress-vomiting, I was able to mutter a pathetic reply of: “I don’t know yet.”
The entire structure of education in America seems hell-bent on one thing: stressing students out. Standardized testing, honors classes, college applications, your “first year experience” — it’s all about intimidation.
That needs to change.
By the end of my senior year of high school, my mental health was in shambles. I was seeing a psychologist at the time who asked me, “If you’re so unsure, why don’t you just take a year off before going to college?” My response was that not going to college in the fall was completely out of the question.
I mean, what would people think of me if I did that?
Society holds a stigma that if you don’t go to college immediately after high school, you’re a failure.
Some people just aren’t ready for college when they graduate high school.
I’m tired of seeing my peers meander through their college years with no sense of direction or without a drop of enthusiasm for the material they study.
I’m tired of seeing parents fund their children’s education, only for them to spend their entire freshman year screwing around, skipping class and throwing away a perfectly good opportunity to learn and grow.
“I don’t want to be in college, but my parents are making me,” should never be the reason you enroll.
Education is incredibly important, and having the opportunity to go to college is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. But to succeed, you must be happy with your major.
I switched majors after my first semester, and it turned out to be perfect for me. I haven’t looked back since.
I consider myself incredibly lucky.
But if you still have no idea what your passion is, what you want to study or where — what could be so bad if you took a year off?
Work. Save money. Travel. Read some books. Fall in love with as many things as you possibly can. You might end up learning a lot about yourself.
Don’t be in a hurry to start the rest of your life. Your life is happening right now. You might not graduate with all your friends, but you’ll graduate the right way.
Education should be about personal growth, not a race to the finish line.
Shirin Chowdhury is a 20-year-old English junior from Manhattan, Kansas. You can reach her on Twitter @TDR_schowd.