When in the Labyrinth
Image source: https://goo.gl/8QkHCJ
You wake up to the sound of the rooster outside. The first thing you see when you open your eyes is the glass window in front of you, displaying the view of the sky painted with the colors of a new morning. You start to feel your head lying onto something hard and slowly remember the happenings of the long night before, spent with books, highlighters, multi-colored pens and index cards. There they are, scattered beside your head on the study table.
You accidentally slept on your study notes. Again.
You sit up straight and stretch your arms upward, your body strained from the uncomfortable position you were in during your sleep. What time did you doze off? Last time you checked your wall clock, it was a quarter before four. You check it again; it is now 7:27. Your physics class will start in three minutes.
Nah. It’s a minor class for you, anyway, with a difficult subject and a more difficult teacher.
You lay your head sideways on the table again, taking in the silence of your dormitory room. Here you are, thinking of ditching your first class. You look back to your days in high school, with all the good grades, awards, praises from your classmates, teachers and parents, and a drive to push yourself to your limits. You were on fire. You felt like you could do anything. You brought that fiery determination to college, excited for a new challenge ahead.
Well, that determination and that excitement seem to have flown out the window now, replaced with the habitual dread of waking up for early-morning classes, grades that are two or three points away from failure, and the half-angry, half-worried look from your parents when they found out that Louise, their only child, cream of the crop in her early days, is never the same again.
Yes, you tried looking for her, too, for that girl who never settled for less. You’re looking for that drive. But you don’t even know where to start your search.
You turn to see your roommate, stirring from her sleep. Beside her bed is a wall covered with pictures she took, with subjects varying from people, to objects, to landscapes, to urban life, to glorious views of the sky. You don’t notice yourself staring at the photo wall until she clears her throat. You quickly turn your attention back to her.
“Don’t you have a class at 7:30?”
You sit up straight again. “Good morning to you, too, Jenna.”
Jenna sits up on her bed, her hair standing on all corners. “Ha. But really, isn’t physics your first class? You’re getting pretty bad scores in it, right?”
You sigh. “I’ll think about that later. I have a calculus exam this afternoon and I haven’t finished studying yet.”
“You’re willing to skip a physics lesson that may be important?”
“Um, I’ll just catch up… I don’t know. Ugh.” You slap your head in frustration.
Jenna removes herself from her bed, grabs a chair and walks towards you. She sits beside you and grabs one of your index cards, full of calculus formulas. “I’m going to be frank—”
“You’re always frank.”
“Um, yes, but I’m going to be really frank now. Are you really sure this course is for you, Louise?”
You stare at your roommate.
“I mean, look at this. Look at you. I don’t think there has ever been a week when you don’t whine about one of your subjects. I don’t think you have ever exclaimed about a very high grade to me. It’s always, ‘Jennaaaaaa what am I gonna dooooo? I failed my quiz again! How am I gonna pass thiiiiiiis? I’m so tired alreadyyyy.’ Yeah, I know about that ’grades don’t measure intelligence’quote, but sometimes, grades can also measure one’s motivation.”
She pauses. She seems to let you take in all of what she said.
“Louise, I’m telling you this as your senior. You’re already complaining now, and you’re still on your second year. And all of that whining started when you were halfway on your first. I’m telling you, it will get harder in the long run. Trust me, I went through that and I am still. But I’m sticking around because I want this. I want to take pictures. I want to make art. Now tell me, why are you sticking around?”
You stare at her, then at the pile of calculus stuff on your study table. That was a question that struck all the right targets. Why are you sticking around?
Is it your parents? You remember that first day you entered the university, when you were filling up application forms and got stuck at Chosen Course. You didn’t know what to fill up.
“What about an engineering course, sweetie? You’re pretty good at math and science,” your mother said. Still bearing that I-can-do-everything vibe from high school, you took her advice.
Is it the job opportunities? You searched more about engineering the time you got home that day, and saw engineering fields conquering lists of jobs with the highest salaries. Who doesn’t want to earn a lot in the future?
Is it your friends? A lot of them were entering the engineering world.
Is it the subjects? Your mother was right — you are pretty good at math and science. You love tackling them.
Or so you thought. You never thought all of these reasons will be consumed by overwhelming subjects, high-standard teachers and a pressure-cooker environment. The sure path you set for yourself has now turned into this confusing labyrinth, with no idea how you got in and how you’ll get out.
“I don’t know, Jenna. I can think of reasons, but I don’t think any of them seems right.”
Jenna sighs. A sisterly expression forms on her face as she pats your knee. “I am not encouraging you to shift or anything, okay? I’m just telling you to make sure that you really want this, that you want this enough for you to be willing to cross the Pacific or to climb Everest for it. Only in that way that it will be worth all the failing scores and all the whining.”
She smiled. You smiled back, albeit weakly. She stood up and started to walk away. “Now I’m going to take a bath since I got exams, as well. Good luck with calculus, darling.”
“Thanks, Jenna. Really.”
You hear the bedroom door close. You turn your attention back to your calculus notes, then to the view of the sky at the window, the colors of the morning already too alive. A while ago, you were looking for the high-school Louise who had the drive to push boundaries. Maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you should just allow her to fade away forever. Maybe you focus on molding this college Louise who knows what she wants.
What do you want, really?
You don’t know the answer to that yet. But for sure, what you want now is to pass your calculus exam, and you’re going to focus on that. You may not find a way out of this labyrinth for now, but you will, and you’ll take it step by step. Maybe, along the way, you’re going to find out the .