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huntsman
Credit: Avalon Morell

When I entered Huntsman Hall for the first time, I discovered that Wharton had a mode of living and being entirely its own. The building was bustling with so much life and activity. I remember seeing men and women strutting past me in well-tailored suits and the smell of ruthless ambition filling the air. It soon became evident that everyone had a grander destination beyond their day-to-day classes or club meetings. They wanted to strike it big in an elite society built for capitalist success. The intensity was electric and mildly terrifying.

I was suddenly surrounded by incessant career chatter, a territory my high-school self never ventured into. Freshmen talked about internships and concentrations as if they were set in stone. Everyone seemed so "sure" of what they wanted to do. "Consulting" and "banking" were constantly thrown around. I became acquainted with a four-year timeline or formula that students aligned themselves with to increase their odds of "success." Freshman or sophomore year you would try to get an internship, then maybe another one, and then an offer. You would join this or that club or engage in research or case competitions. It was a hamster wheel of sorts, and nothing about it seemed genuine. 

Today, that timeline has absolutely no effect on my college experience, my long-term goals, or how I organize and plan my time. I’ve let go of all external expectations and I encourage everyone else to do the same. 

The four-year sequence, while functional for some, swallows discovery and authentic pursuit for others. As a firm believer that success is a relative concept and that everyone’s life runs on a different timeline, I find the pressure students place on themselves to become a certain version of success heartbreaking. We must open ourselves to discovering what we truly want to become. Even Penn professor Angela Duckworth admitted to discovering her career when she was 32 years old. Instead of restricting ourselves to rigid goal-setting timelines, we must remain open to the process. We can’t plan everything. Sometimes you intend to go one way and the world blows you in a completely different direction. 

Our four-year plans, which often end with corporate "success," deprive us of the ability to use our ingenuity to develop new roles or ventures that align with our talents. Corporate America isn’t for everybody. Let’s stop acting like it is. As a Wharton student, I allow my interests to motivate me, which discourages me from getting caught up in the career-comparison rat-race. I seek meaningful experiences, regardless of whether they are "resume-worthy." It’s fine to do something original; in fact, the world needs more of that. 

Penn students tend to be multifaceted people. I’ve yet to meet one Penn student who isn’t eclectic or passionate about multiple things. The future is flexible and the job market is changing; new roles are always emerging. Why push yourself into a box or a timeline instead of creating opportunities for yourself? Why not become the trendsetter, the person brave enough to pave their own path? Our university is defined by its students' innovation and creativity. We should channel those traits into creating careers and lives that model our own unique growth and development.

Yes, go to Career Services. Take advantage of their new peer advising program. Score your dream internship. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be ambitious. I simply believe that ambition shouldn’t be stressful and time-consuming, but the type of ambition that yearns for something larger than ourselves — the type of ambition that is okay with things taking longer than they "should." Concern yourself with the macro things like your happiness, not whether you get that internship sophomore or junior summer or if your job offer comes before or after graduation.

Benjamin Franklin said that "by failing to plan, you are planning to fail." I’d like to challenge that statement. For some of us our downfall isn’t a lack of planning but our desire to plan everything. Our desire to have it all "figured out" at such a young age is what cripples our development. Evidently, we all had a master plan for our lives, which is how we got to Penn. The bigger question is, did we plan for our own personal fulfillment? The purpose of college is to find a purpose. Did we plan for that? 

I’d like to leave you with this piece of advice: If you are to reach your full potential, you must remain open to your evolution. That is what I tell myself on the days when I don’t feel ambitious enough or when I have no clear answer when someone asks me what I want to be when I grow up. No matter what, I'll remain open to the process of becoming. As for now, I'm striving to become the very best person I can be. Everything else is secondary, really.

SURAYYA WALTERS is a Wharton sophomore from New Rochelle, N.Y. concentrating in Marketing and minoring in Urban Education. Her email address is surayyaw@wharton.upenn.edu.

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