Starting around the age of 16, I decided that I wanted to be a scientist of some kind. I went to a special magnet school for math and science, and when I went to college I majored in math and physics. I double majored because I thought I wanted to learn everything I could, but there were also more unhealthy motivations at play.
During my senior year, when I was considering options for graduate school, I had a conversation with one of my physics professors, a rough-and-ready good ol’ boy (with a reputation for resorting to non-conventional disciplinary measures with particularly troublesome students). I had asked him whether he thought I could get accepted to UT Austin, his alma mater, and appearing to consider carefully, he said “Yes, I think you’re smart enough…” This meant a lot coming from him, since UT Austin is one of the most prestigious physics universities around. There was something in his voice, however, that seemed to hint that that wasn’t all that it would take, but I realize now that that was truly the day my career as a scientist died (although I wasn’t to realize it for a number of years afterwards).
I have written before about my need as a kid to be perceived as smart to justify my self-worth (https://synergy-tutoring.com/2013/10/06/dont-tell-kids-theyre-smart/), and it turns out that this was a big source of my motivation to be a scientist: to prove, to myself, the world, and everyone, how smart I was. So it seems now, looking back, that when I heard those three words (“you’re smart enough”) from someone that I considered to be a credible source, some part of me felt that I was already “in the club”, and further qualifications were unnecessary.
As it turns out, I did go on to go to graduate school – in California rather than Texas – but my heart wasn’t in it, and I eventually decided that academia wasn’t the right career path for me. Instead I have gone on to have a very different set of life experiences than I thought I wanted to have when I was projecting forward into the future at age 16, motivated largely by the desire to prove myself to myself.
The point of this story is to illustrate the importance of not only being clear about what you want to do with your life, but also about why you want to do it. I spent years climbing a ladder only to find out that it was against the wrong wall, and this is one of my reasons for being so passionate about helping students get in touch with their true desires and highest vision for their lives.