The Daily Northwestern

Doing What You Love is a Choice

Alexandra Huang, Op-Ed Contributor

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I like asking people questions. One of the questions I often ask is: “Are you doing what you want to do at the moment?” The responses I get are always surprising. The majority of people answer, “No.”

“No, but I am only doing this for a short period of time,” they’d say.
“No, but I don’t have a choice,” they’d complain.
“No, but you are meant to suffer in life,” they’d confess.

Notice how all of these negations are almost always followed by an elaborate justification, well-devised and convincing. The buts, the excuses and the rationalizations sneak into the picture, disguised carefully as statements that seem reasonable and blameless.

No, I hate working 120 hours a week, but this is a career that has prestige and pays well. No, both of my parents are doctors, so I have to also go to med school. No, working in investment banking bores me, but this is my only way to cut into venture capital. No, I hate partying, but I feel obligated to go. No, I want to end this relationship, but he’s going to ruin my reputation.

We tell ourselves these narratives over and over until we start to believe them ourselves. We carefully wrap our fear into lies, package them, sugarcoat them, and eventually twist them into statements that we grow to believe ourselves.

We all sometimes have to do things we don’t want to do. But that’s fundamentally different from the situations presented above. Many of us are trapped in the mindset that we cannot go against the forces imposed on us, but the truth is that we almost always have a choice in our own lives.

I know people who want to change the world. They found a high-paying profession and set out to make a lot of money. “I’ll do philanthropy once I’m rich,” they’d say. “I need to make money first, otherwise I don’t have any power to change the world.” I don’t think you need to take such a large detour to get to the thing you want to do. You can still go make money, but you can change the world at the same time. Take the time to say “Hi” to people, be more empathetic, put a smile on your face. You’ll be able to pay the bills and light up people’s hearts along the way. You never know what’s going to happen in the future, so start doing what you want to do now.

No, you don’t have to work 120 hours a week in order to gain approval from your parents and peers. No, you don’t have to take orgo and do the pre-med track just because your parents were doctors. No, you don’t have to work in banking for seven years in order to become a venture capitalist. Quit that job. Make that major change. Create your own start-up if you want to break into the VC field. Yes, you do have a choice. Instead of putting off what you really want to do because you’re scared, start saying “yes” to your true desires. It’s easy to do what your parents have asked you to do, but you’ll thank yourself 20 years later for dropping the pre-med track when you’ve successfully evaded a midlife existential crisis.

Now ask yourself, “Am I doing what I want to do at the moment?” And this time, try to answer it without following it up with sugar-coated excuses.

Alexandra Huang is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at alexandrahuang@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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