I’ve heard this phrase too many times since coming into college, and I can’t help but feel as though there is a great deal of stigma towards people trying to discover their passion.
I am currently in my first semester as a college freshman at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, and I am an Asian person studying computer science. I enjoy attending hackathons — not for the Soylent, not for the free food, but simply to learn. My computer desktop is littered with cloned GitHub repositories, and my CPU constantly jacked by unclosed Terminal windows, Sublime Text files, and StackOverFlow tabs. My laptop case is plastered by stickers, all of which I have acquired from hackathons.
The classic, bon fide textbook example of computer science student. Or, as non-STEM majors might think,
“Ew, what a nerrrrrrrd.”
But there is more to me than just a Silicon Valley student. I care deeply badminton, I enjoy traveling, and I enjoy photography. I’m somewhat up to date with fashion trends, and spend considerable amounts of time salivating over the newest food craze. I might prefer to spend nights out, enjoying my time with my friends, but also appreciate a night in, just having time to myself or to work on that one project I’ve been meaning to complete.
That’s why when people look at me and immediately make assumptions — whether it be about my lifestyle, or my behavioral tendencies — it makes me wonder.
What if my lifestyle is not cut out for computer science?
For people who have known or followed me, they know that I do, in fact, very much enjoy programming. Quite often, I sum up the past two years in two words: programming and hackathons. Looking back on those years, many of the moments that are most prevalent primarily relate to the before mentioned words: watching my very own hackathon rise from the ground and become internationally involved, attending roughly many hackathons with one of my now most-valued friends, and learning to tune into my inner thoughts, here on Medium.
For yourself, as for many others, your experiences may be similar. Life might revolve around programming, but after reaching a certain point, I’ve found that many people reach a period of uncertainty. While this crisis exists for people of all different crafts, I’ve found it particularly bad for people like me, who’ve devoted a large part of time to their craft and have experience in their chosen fields. For them, they’ve already reached an equivalent of a pre-midlife crisis.
And yet, while these “advanced” students struggle with these newfound thoughts, their lives are suddenly interrupted by the changes in lifestyle that college brings. New responsibilities are suddenly revealed, eating away the time that they used to spend pursuing their craft. FOMO, or fear of missing out creeps up, and suddenly, taking a nap post-hangout seems more enticing than spending more time pursuing their passion.
Life, in which each day used to be filled with new expectations, begins to feel monotonous. The fiery passion that used to make life exciting, has dulled into nothing but ashes, untouched and undisturbed.
For myself, perhaps my old lifestyle may have fit society’s image of a programmer better than I do now. But now, I’ve found more sources of enjoyment in life, other than the addictive satisfaction that comes from programming.
Is this wrong? I don’t know. There may not be a singular, concrete answer to this question. I have many interests, many unfinished tasks that have yet to be checked off my bucket list. But, I feel that upon entering college, something about my perspective has changed. I am no longer the person I used to be, and whether this has made me a well-rounded person or not, I’ll leave it to nobody but myself to judge.
However, I know that when I voice my opinions about my uncertainty or difficulties related to classes in my major, I often get varying reactions. Some are indifferent, but others, who only see me as a programmer, are confused.
“Aren’t you a programmer? Don’t you know all this already?”
I’m often taken aback by these comments. Am I expected to breeze through everything related to computer science, just because I have some previous experience with programming? I can’t help but look around and see other people, without an “experienced” background, appearing to complete tasks without difficulty. As a result, imposter syndrome is quick to appear, breeding uncertainty and leading to frequent thoughts of switching majors.
Many enter college with little to no previous experience in their major, and some choose simply because of job prospects or because “it sounded cool.” Because of the spontaneity associated with this decision, the practice of switching majors once, or even twice, is not unheard of. However, among the plethora of confusion, because I’ve invested my past two years in programming, I oftentimes feel as if the option of switching majors is unheard of.
But no, given the choice, I would not want to switch majors. For me, the process of learning itself is like a puzzle in itself, and I feel that you’re only learning if you do come across these roadblocks. Whether it’s from smashing my keyboard wondering why pip won’t install properly, or realizing that I completely messed up an implementation, the rush of dopamine when finding the solution is greater than anything else that I know.
My specific case, while not applicable to many people, causes me to gaze upon the expectations that are placed among programmers sourly. While many may easily fit society’s mold of the image of a programmer, I find that for those who share other interests, and those who are still finding themselves, it is important to know that just because we may not fit society’s mold doesn’t mean that we are any less than those who do.
“Just because I am a programmer, it does not mean I can fix your computer.”
But while we may not be able to fix your keyboards at the moment, with some struggle, anything is possible. And precisely because I encounter resistance while learning in my preferred area of study, I am more than content to know that I am a better version of myself than I was yesterday.
So, a word to the people who make said assumptions: keep your expectations to yourself. Live your own life, and I’ll live mine. Whether I spend it geeking out or exploring the world, I know that I’ll be living my best life, as you should with yours.