On my first day of spring break, I got the first of many emails about Hey Day.
Stream of consciousness: What?! Hey Day?! But Hey Day is for rising seniors and I’m not a ... oh.
We have all become accustomed to being bombarded with questions about our degrees, our relationships and our futures by family members. Great Aunt Edith wants to know what on earth you’re going to do with that history degree, Uncle Jerry asks where you plan on living and cousin Sam inquires whether you’re going to follow in the footsteps of your father and go to law school.
I didn’t have the answers to their questions, and until now that didn’t really matter. “I’m just a sophomore,” I would tell people. “I have time to figure all that out.”
As I opened the email about Hey Day, I was overcome by an all-encompassing sensation of terror. Where had the time gone? Where will I live? And what on earth was I going to do with my history degree? Chris Farley’s “Saturday Night Live” character, Matt Foley, echoed in my brain, screaming, “What are you gonna do with your life?” Suddenly, I felt, I didn’t have so much time to figure it out.
I’m certain I’m not alone in this. Particularly in a pre-professional environment like Penn, the pressure to know what we’re going to do with our lives and where we’re going to do it is omnipresent. Our classmates are going to be nurses, to be engineers and to be investment bankers. For some of us, though, the future isn’t so clear-cut.
I still don’t have the answers to the difficult questions. What has changed, however, is that I have become more comfortable with that. These days, if someone asks where I am going to live, I answer simply, “somewhere warm.” When asked during spring break what I was going to do with my history degree, I answered with a laugh, “probably nothing.” I just happen to love history and Penn has an outstanding department; so, no, world, I am not going to teach history or go to law school.
The truth is, I’ll probably do a lot of things. Statistics say that the average person changes careers five to seven times in their life. By no means will my history degree, the city I choose to live in or whatever my first career is confine me for the rest of my life.
Self-discovery does not end with college. There is no final conclusion to be drawn upon graduating where we can say assuredly, this is what I want to do forever. Just ask Ellen DeGeneres, who before becoming one of the funniest people on the planet, was a paralegal.
We may not get it just right the first, second or even third time. Perhaps, though, the first career will show us — with absolute certainty — what we don’t want to do. Perhaps the second will be satisfying enough, but not fulfilling in the way we need. Perhaps during the third, we’ll start our families and choose to give up our careers for some time.
Steve Case, founder of AOL Inc., summed it up nicely in his speech at the University of North Carolina’s 2013 commencement: “Be curious. Be open. Be flexible. Let your life unfold as a series of chapters.”
As we begin to write our final chapter here at Penn, we should remember that the next chapter is just beginning, and inevitably, an entirely different one begins after that, and so on.
My fellow juniors, we’ll be okay. My wish for all of us on our impending Hey Day and transition to senior-hood is that we never completely figure out what we want to do with our lives. That we continue always to learn, grow, fail and try again. That we never become so satisfied with anything that we become complacent. That life continues to challenge us, and that we continue to rise to the occasion.
I would like to dedicate this column to my late grandfather Ernie Friedman, who taught me that life is about trying, failing, trying again, succeeding and having fun in the meantime.