pre-enlightenment for the hopeful pre-graduate student

He who knows others is wise;

He who knows himself is enlightened.

– Lao-tzu

A couple weeks ago, I wrote this post about my thoughts on accepting who I am and being proud of it, even when those traits are often viewed in a negative light by others. My father referred me to the above quote, and I’ve had it in the background since then (literally — in an open tab, which I repeatedly referred to). It’s a quote I repeat over and over to myself when I have a few moments to myself; a quote which, for some reason, has impacted me greatly.

One thing I have always desired is to know myself better — to know what I want, and to be able to achieve that. What frustrates me is that I have a hard time determining those desires. Sure, I know simple things, like food preferences (white) and personal style (awesome and often vintage). What I do not know, however, is what I want to do with my life.

Life is a scary idea: there are the major things, like love, marriage, children, career, friends. There are little things, like travel plans, craft projects, location of residence, and how much dancing I can get in on a regular basis. All of these things are important to me. But the challenging part is determining the importance and direction of many of these choices.

Granted, there are a few things I can wait to worry about, like love and children; some things are dependent on other choices or where I end up, like location of residence and travel plans; other things, I know will happen no matter what I do, like dancing and hopefully craft projects. But there’s this big, looming thing hanging over me on a daily basis which I feel needs a decision, needs knowledge-of-self, needs to happen — and once it happens, maybe everything else will fall into place?

I feel like determining the career path I take will determine much of the rest of my life. It will determine, to some extent, the place I live and the people I meet. It will influence when I can have children, the money with which I will be able to travel and dance, and the general happiness of my day-to-day life, depending on whether I love or hate my job. At this point in time, it is one of the biggest — and most intimidating — decisions I have to make. And while I feel I’ve said that before, I have never stalled or changed my mind so much.

Since I’ve graduated (a year ago in two weeks), I’ve considered many potential career paths: business school, librarian, zoologist, and homeless bum are among the many. But most of them (besides that last) require additional schooling; and therein lies yet another important decision which I balk at making — because honestly, do I know what I want to do well enough to make that decision? Will I regret that decision in two or four years, when it’s too late to change without going back to school all over again?

Attending Emory was not the best decision I’d ever made. I mean, it turned out fantastically — but that was more luck and circumstance (and finding a true love in dance) than careful thought over what I wanted to do with my life. Thankfully, it gives me a good background to do almost anything I else want, regardless of what that turns out to be. I just don’t want to be so careless making the decision for graduate school. I know I want to continue my eduction eventually, but do I want to do it now? Or do I want to wait until I know myself better, so that I might make a more informed, more enlightened decision? After all, it is a decision which will most definitely influence the rest of my life — one which should be handled with care.

These aren’t questions or concerns I can answer today, but they are things I think about every time I look at the other tabs I have open in the background, right beside the quote from Lao-tzu: “Find the Best Colleges to Attend,” “Graduate Admissions 101,” “Google Maps,” so I can look at all the places I’m thinking of and determine how I might like living there for 2 – 5 years, depending on the program I choose.

For right now, all I can do is put one foot ahead of the other: study for the GRE, take the GRE, and go from there. Between both jobs and a meager social life, I don’t have a lot of free time, and I dedicate all that free time to studying. After that, I will dedicate all of my free time to looking up colleges and emailing professors — I’d love to do both simultaneously, but I don’t have the time I would want to dedicate towards looking at programs and research that I’m interested and really putting the thought I know is necessary into applying. It might take a little longer than I would want, but I know (hope?) I’ll get there eventually.

I might not know myself now, but I’m determined to figure it out.

Does that make me pre-enlightened?


2 thoughts on “pre-enlightenment for the hopeful pre-graduate student

  1. If you’re interesting in traveling further down that road, I’d strongly recommend Harry Frankfurt’s essay ‘Taking Ourselves Seriously’. It’s brief, beautifully written and often illuminating, though sometimes technical (the curse of being a philosopher).

    Frankfurt wonders how it is that we figure out who we really are, and why this is so important to us; he argues that in the end it boils down to love guided by reason.

    In any case, great blog post, and good luck figuring yourself out!

    • “Brief.” At 18 pages long, if you exclude the second part (which I’ll probably read anyways, making it 36 pages). Not something I can read before bed, haha! Thanks, though — I’m definitely going to read through it.

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