Don't let plans get in the way of your passions

Don’t let plans get in the way of passions (credit: Kelsey Thompson/) Don’t let plans get in the way of passions (credit: Kelsey Thompson/)
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Uncertainty is incredibly scary. It’s why people are afraid of the dark, and why death and what happens afterward are so important to so many cultures and religions. For a graduating senior, what’s about to happen in a few short weeks has that strong air of the unknown.

I don’t want to compare graduating to death — although the black cap and gown don’t help — but graduation is a time where many of us are saying goodbye to a way of life we’ve known for most of our lives. We’re trading grades and homework for a salary and late nights at the office. The mix of excitement and fear is palpable.

But at the same time, it’s that uncertainty that drives us. Adhering to a plan and claiming that you know for certain where you’ll be in five years is not only ridiculous — it’s impossible. The most important lesson I’ve learned at Carnegie Mellon is that instead of being adamant about your plans, you should focus on your resolve to follow your passions and do what you love.

Plans are subject to change, and there’s a large number of students at Carnegie Mellon who already know that. Out of everyone who arrived at the university when I did, 232 people changed colleges in their undergraduate career by the start of their senior year, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis’s Fall 2013 College Enrollment Patterns Report. 203 students were no longer enrolled at their initial college within the school by their third fall here, and 97 students made the decision to switch colleges after just one year at Carnegie Mellon.

This number has only been increasing over the years, with 188 of seniors in the fall of 2012 enrolled in a different college than their initial college, and 157 seniors in the fall of 2011. None of these numbers reflect how many students changed majors within their initial college, or left the university altogether. Regardless, it’s interesting to see how a significant portion of people who I competed with and against at House Wars made a big change in their academic careers while here.

The fact is that there’s very little that stays the same your whole life. Your looks, where you live, your finances, your career, your friends, your plans, and numerous other aspects of your life are subject to change. That only becomes more evident as you enter the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people hold, on average, 11.3 different jobs from age 18 to 46. While that includes promotions and job changes within the same career, changing how you describe what you do or who you work for often makes adhering to a plan that much more difficult.

So with all of this uncertainty, the best thing to do is what makes you happy. Barring that it isn’t harmful to yourself or others, following your passions is the only surefire way to find happiness. Your passions can be your career, the people in your life, or what you do with your spare time.

Even your passions aren’t immune to change. But adhering to a plan and having it prove impossible will leave you worse off than finding a new calling. There’s a line in Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich’s famous essay, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young,” that this sentiment echoes. The line is this: “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

I admire people who have plans, who have goals, and who have the drive to pursue them. That’s the case with so many of the talented people I know here at Carnegie Mellon. But when things change, when you divert from your “plans” — or get thrusted out of them — it’s important not to become discouraged. There’s so much that is out of our control that it can be scary. That’s why it’s important to have a firm grasp on your passions. Knowing who you are, practicing your values, and letting your passions motivate you will help you find a certain level of peace that those who pore over why their plans went astray won’t know. Uncertainty is incredibly scary, but it helps to know that whatever changes, you can take the steps to do what you love and, in that, find satisfaction.