What does one do on realising, halfway through college, that one is not on the right track?
The thought of college was putting off Sreeja. She was sick of her subject. Nothing made sense in the class. Her scores were bad. There were arrears to worry about. She felt choked. One day she told her parents, “I just can’t go on.” They tried to console, encourage, convince, and frighten her to carry on. But their strategies did not work. Sreeja dropped out. She was frightened at the enormity of her own deed and even felt bad about facing the world. She took refuge in her easel, paint and brush. The next academic season, she applied for admission to a course in Fine Arts.
Most students go through college admissions in a daze. Some thankfully clutch at whatever comes their way. Others are pushed into courses they know nothing about by parents and peers. Yet others just want to stay with friends and end up choosing courses that they may not actually want to do. The first year goes by in fun and games. By the end of the second year, everyone sits up and asks themselves if they are doing the right thing.
Sometimes the answer is ‘no’. Some students like Sreeja gladly move over to activities for which they have a passion. But for others the shift is tough and causes a lot of heartburn.
By the end of the second year, Susie had 14 arrears and her HOD had a serious discussion with her one day. He felt she was not cut out for the course and should move to a field where she would do well. Susie was hurt and her self-confidence shattered, but with the support of her parents and friends, she made the shift to Humanities and found her feet.
In his last year of college, Prashant knew he had made a mistake. He was not cut out to be a software engineer. He could not see himself in an IT job. His few experiences with a local NGO had excited him. He wanted to do organic farming. He would have dropped out had it not been for his uncle’s practical suggestion. “Just one more year. Hang in there and get your degree. Then do whatever you want. If it fails, you still have a degree to fall back on.”
Harbhajan however refused to give up the fight for ‘freedom.’ He was a guitar player and composed rap and heavy metal music. His band won several prizes in inter-school and inter-college contests. They had even been invited to perform publicly on a couple of occasions. Harbhajan was upbeat about the future. “I can make my living out of music. I do not have to go through this torture,” he fumed every day. “The trouble is always with you parents. You too saw the movie, “The Three Idiots.” One can come good as a photographer or a musician just as well – but you parents think it is engineering or nothing.”
So what is the right thing to do when one realises that one is not on the right track? There is no single correct answer to this question. Prashant’s approach shows common-sense. If the course, though not to your taste, is still bearable and your performance has not been too bad, the best thing would be to go through the grind and get that degree for the time, energy and money that you are investing in it. Cynical though it may sound, a degree certificate is a useful piece of paper and can fetch you a job – any job, even unrelated to it – and may just save your family in a time of need.
Does that mean Harbhajan was wrong in wanting to pursue his passion? No. Everyone with a passion and a talent must most definitely pursue it. The trouble begins when you try to make a living out of your passion. Only in some vocations can a lot of people make enough money to keep their home fires burning and their tummies cheerfully full. It is a simple demand–supply equation.
In the arts and in sports, success depends not on an acquired skill or qualification but on an individual’s exceptional talent, the right opportunity, and loads of luck. Naturally, the chances of success are fewer. More people can successfully make a living as scientists, engineers, doctors or bankers, than as artists and sportspeople.
Of course, this also depends on what you want in life. A comfortable living, an elegant lifestyle, or a simple frugal life with a large dose of satisfaction derived by constantly doing something you are passionate about. What is your definition of success and of happiness?
Think it over
Your passion can remain an abiding interest in your life; but it need not be your livelihood.
However, if you are faring poorly in college and you feel stressed, suffocated and even see a change in your temperament, it might just be a good idea to sound out some adults and friends on what to do. You may not have a talent for music or sports, you may not even know what is best for you, but that is quite all right. A majority of the people in the world are in the same boat as you, and the boat is sailing quite as smoothly for all that. Perhaps a change will do you good and you might find an activity that suits your skills and temperament.
In whichever category of disenchanted students you fall, the important thing is not to take impulsive and emotional decisions. Equally, it is important to realise that it is not the end of the road for you but only the beginning of a new path and a new vision.