Why does one study what one loves? It has been frequently argued that it is the only pathway to thrive in a field, or it is the right choice along which wealth, love and good results would come.
However, a bitter taste appears to some undergraduate students who study in conventional liberal arts majors. We present ourselves at career fairs and astonishingly find ourselves with a lack of choice. Perhaps from a compassionate observation of this kind of frustration, Brian Deinstadt, in his Jan. 31 column, advocated that it is important to consider the market demand of a choosing major, which I agree with partly.
However, it is my concern that the reasons for students’ frustration — why students are frustrated and where it comes from — had not been more carefully studied before reaching this conclusion. Pressure from the external environment doesn’t necessarily suggest that following one’s passion is insufficient. This guidance prevails as, presumably, the most effective approach to uncover one’s genuine desire, which benefits a continuous possession of demanded skills.
Aside from career uncertainty, a part of the frustration might come from an inaccurate expectation of a major. Some academic fields, by nature, render fewer demanded skills at an undergraduate level. Whether to reform their curricula — those often embrace splendid potentials and the learning of which only invisibly expands one’s value — is beyond the scope here. However, feeling pressure may be beneficial to students. Through it, one has the chance to reassess the design of their major and accordingly adjust one’s goal. Only when mutual expectations are reconciled can one safely resolve mental pressure. Asserting that studying what one loves is “largely unhelpful,” simply because of mere dissatisfaction that could result from various factors, is inappropriate.
Undergraduate students often struggle with the uncertainty of their future. But perhaps this is exactly why someone could benefit from studying what they love. Through both grief and excitement from the experience, they may quickly identify what they value the most in life, and any necessary change could be welcomed, though never effortlessly. Studying what one loves might be the easiest way to discover or to develop who we are and what we want, after which one can purposefully seek demanded skills with unremitting efforts. This determination will grow stronger and stronger once one’s goal has been firmly established. For this reason, the crucial value of the guidance should not be diminished, especially at an early stage of undergraduate study.
If a student wills immediate financial rewards, then choosing sociology or anthropology, for example, may not be wise. If someone commits to academic research, then they should pursue it until a point when they feel safe to re-evaluate both expectation and reality. But, to those including myself who are uncertain about the future, there may be no better alternatives than to study what makes us most curious, albeit finding an end is by no means instantaneous or easy.
This ought to be more important to new undergraduate students. The prevailing preference of certain marketable traits and skills implicitly determines other characters to be less valuable. Any responsible student should bear that in mind, but it may also be indispensable to relentlessly improve both ourselves and the external environment by studying what we love while finding what we want and who we are.
Wei Xiao is a senior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law.