Unconventional Anecdotes | UG Acads

Jun 30, 2020

The things we should focus on are not 'What do I want to do with my life?' but rather come up with our personal answers of 'What do I even mean when I say that something interests me?'

Based on the topic on which I wish to talk about, I could possibly start it as a boring formal write up on deciding on Branch change, career, what do I want and all of those things which honestly this article is about, but I have read formal articles and they just do not resonate with me, and why should they! In any decision we make that impacts us, formality is that elephant in the room that is really suffocating us by sitting right on our necks, giving us a big list of things to do while preventing the humanness at the core of the advice. And for an article to try to advice on things that people want, I will have to leave the sham that is a formal article and have this as a conversation with you. So make sure to think, because there are questions here, and it can only be a success if you think about them and talk back to this article.

In my opinion, the things we should focus on are not ‘what do I want to do with life?’ but rather come up with our personal answers of ‘What do I even mean when I say that something interests me?’ and ‘when did I become interested in something?’.

Before thrusting a solution in your hand, I would like to motivate this problem. There is no coincidence that the JEE rank lists follow from previous year ones with changes following from the average placement performance. Now no one can blame a kid who has only done coaching all their life to think on it, but sadly the department preference story stays much the same during branch change as well, and frankly, there is no problem in making decisions based on how economically safe an option looks like but that is indeed just what it ‘looks’ like. This is because you are not just your department, you are your department+you yourself, and the ‘yourself’ part is where people mess up a lot. In fact, the mess up is big enough that there are BIG consequences, even from an economic standpoint, as the world economy sheds billions if not trillions because the worker is stuck where they did not want to be, a job they do not feel interested in. In light of this, we can all agree that something is seriously going wrong with figuring out what we want or for that matter what even this ‘want’ is?

Now I apologise in advance for sounding very ignorant of your personal problems which I am totally unaware of when talking about my perspective on ‘what do I want?’. But to take attention away from focusing on you and I would like to offer another motivation so you see why I would like for you to read what I am writing:

Try making perfect sense out of this, if you can then I don’t think you need to continue(who even reads these long writeups! ) but otherwise, hop on: I joined IIT Kanpur initially in Mechanical Engineering and got pretty amazing grades, so here I was in my third semester, I was what people call the department rank 1 of Mechanical Engineering at the time and during the later half of the semester I started working in the developmental biology lab in the BSBE department, with which I stayed connected till the end of my undergraduate degree, despite this continued interest in Biology, I indeed did change my department, but to Physics, which for reasons I did not understand was something quite out of the ordinary for everyone around me. The story did not end, in my final year, I made a mad dash to complete a minor in Machine Learning in the department of CSE. It was something I had stayed away from right after ESC101. I did all those minor requirements in a mad dash at the expense of my grades (quite the reckless move considering research kids usually stay for 5 years at IITK and their final year CPI counts after 5 years!). In all of this what one might think of me is first, ‘what a confused odd fellow!’, and second ‘what the hell does he want to do??’ and thirdly(because I want you to :3 ) ‘Damn, that seems fun!’

This might seem weird, but now that the ordeal is done, I can tell you it was an amazing decision to do all of that, not just out of how things turned out but with especially in light of the thing I really want(yup I do have one( too many?)), something which I have oddly been very clear about since back in 2011(such clarity, I now realise is definitely not normal!)

I hope I have captured your imagination with this and so we may start answering the problems that I motivated above.

The first problem would be ‘How do I even end up wanting something?’. It is important to remember that we always make choices, and always from the things we have seen in our lives and unless you have lived a century or more, I am sure there is a finite list to choose from that you can prepare on three to four pages. You cannot want things you have no idea about, no newborn wants to know if the collatz conjecture is true, some obsessed mathematicians do, but only after they find out about it. So since you can only want from the things you know, you should rather ask ‘What do I want now given my past?’ and make that 3 to 4 page list.

So know well that the only way to know what you want is by making that list and seeing what you like the most in it(or dislike the least :P) and getting into new things to add items to the list. In light of this, if you are thinking about changing your department, forget placement stats or future PhD or anything else, see what those departments have in them that intersect with the things you have seen, and see if it interests you at all(or if you know enough to make a call)

If you do not know enough, meet oldies like myself who love to give advice and waste our time with no guilt to get a clearer picture for yourself. Then look at the whole of placements, doing a PhD, ‘what will people say’ after looking at just the department itself and see what matters more, these or the things you found out from seeing only your list and the department. This should cover much of branch change worries…. Oh and 6 am walks around campus during August are recommended it you wish to ponder on a lot of things.

But now that I have said what I had to on branch change, I still feel that the main point I am trying to make is missing in my above advice which is more general than just for branch change. That main point is simple, stupidly simple, but as the saying goes, not easy. At the core of all these lies the principle: Write down what you think and ask questions about what you wrote down, now write down answers to those question, and keep repeating.

This helps a lot, with anger, with depression, with decision making, and with correct branch change/stay decision(which is just a side effect of the process :D ) So I will tone down and get to the point with some noting down exercises that should ideally really help you figure out(These questions I find important to me, you can make changes accordingly)

A) Understanding your motivations from things you had to do:

1. Write down what you are confused about, and how well can you write about taking one over the other. (It is fine if you get stuck because that is exactly the point of doing this exercise, which is to see how much you know about the possible options you know of before making your decision, and to also make clear what you think the possible options are )

2. Be honest in what motivates you to get done with your courses. (As in to try to keep up with class) (Do this separately for courses you enjoy, that is if you enjoy any course, and separately for courses you do not like)

3. Be honest about what does not motivate you in getting through your courses. (As in what makes you lose the motivation to keep up with what is being done in your class, it can also be a personal reason not related to the course)

4. Be honest in what motivates you when you have an exam.(I personally know people who do things just to be the best, just for that, but if that floats your boat, write it!)

5. Be honest in what you do not like about the thing you vaguely think you like. (Ok, this one is important, if you do have some idea of what you like from what you have experienced or imagined in life, think about what you do not like about it, if there is no such thing in it, then you haven’t yet done it enough and need to get more serious about it or start seeing other options)

B) Focus on the people whom you keep seeing around you:

6. Of the people around you, who do you like the most(or dislike the least) and why do you think that is the case?

7. For the main terms that came up in part A) which of these can you associate to a person in real life?

8. If you have a social circle(s), which of the terms in part A) can you associate with your social circle? (notice, I am talking about people you hang out with, not labmates or clubmates with whom you hang out during lab/club activities, but you can count them in if they are your closest social circle)

9. Do you mind(or even like) if you stand out too much in comparison to the people you hang out with? (if yes in what ways and why?)

10. Try doing part B) but with family and society rather than social circles

C) Focus on self:

11. How much do you beat yourself up for failing at things? (and are you beating yourself up right now for beating yourself up?)

12. What are the things you do not want to do but still do?

13. Why do you do those things and why do you want to stop them? (this one will require no less than 2 years to answer imo, and the answer keeps changing!)

14. How confident do you feel like you can find your interest and succeed at it(you will most probably answer it with a sad tone, but the important point to ask is why do you think you will fail at it?)

This list can go on and on, if you do not want to answer these, it is fine, the main aim is to write what you think so that it is clear, and the question why did you write it and test how correct is it.

For some of those who may not want to write what they think, I have had people tell me they do not want to think on all this because it makes them sad, insecure, depressed and miserable and they are better off not thinking about their worries and important decisions, because of how uncertain it might make their life. It is important to realise that writing your thoughts is not about motivating you to chase your wildest dreams and not chase after certainty, money and all those things which some may think I am looking down on from the tone of this article. Rather writing is about making clear and explicit those possible choices and how you feel about them.

In the case of not having chased after your wildest dreams, writing your thoughts helps you to clarify the different factors that affect your decisions as well as clarify how much you know on them before making those decisions and most importantly about how you feel about each of those factors. Because it might just be that you are happier with certainty, but in the off chance that leaving your dreams is eating you up, it is best to figure that out before you get eaten up.

- Aryaman Jha