Illustration by Prindle Art Intern Kate Ryan

As DePauw students, success is the light at the end of the tunnel of exams, papers and countless hours in Roy O. West. From the moment we step foot on campus, we begin pondering our personal trajectories. We explore different areas of study, choose a major, fulfill internships and, by senior year, we are expected to have at least found a career path we are interested in. Some of us dive right into our chosen fields while others take a gap year, or a few, doing service, pursuing internships or fellowships, or traveling the world. Nonetheless, we continue to pace ourselves, never stopping, falling and repeatedly redeeming, until someone gives us a break. My question is: what would it mean to step into the world without the intention of putting our degree to use, at least, for the time being?

I was browsing Facebook one night when an article surfaced, listing several ‘bad’ ideas one has in their 20’s but will never regret. This article delineated my gut feeling that if I put off my own career goals for at least a few years- to travel, bartend, wait tables or pursue the arts- maybe the progress I have made thus far in my college career won’t come to a screeching halt. My career goals will get accomplished… that satisfaction may just come a bit later.

One response to the article criticized this free-spirited mentality, claiming that time spent ‘living’ in this way is wasted because such energy could be spent making gains in the corporate world. I questioned: should I feel guilt over pursuing life in the present instead of long-term career goals for a couple years… to volunteer somewhere in exchange for room and board, commit to a social cause, or work as a farm hand? Do I owe more to a family that needs me?

It seems that in the professional world we often assign a sense of guilt where efficiency is absent. We become chiefly recognized by our career choices and, as of recent, by our profiles on LinkedIn. We even build relationships based on networking rather than genuine interest.

By putting off long-term career goals and choosing to take an alternative route, an encounter with our passions and personal causes may be in store for us. We may find a point at which our career goals align with our pastimes, or we may even change career paths. If we work ourselves to our limits immediately out of school, these realizations may remain only in the periphery.

In my own experience, it was only once I stepped out of this cycle of productivity and interned at a cultural center in Central America that the weight of knowing my career trajectory for the next ten years was lifted. While living in Nicaragua last summer, where the first question asked was never, “what do you do (for work)?” I came to see what it means to value one’s credibility solely by their passions- may that be art, music, cooking, researching, farming, sporting or even conversing. By somehow rediscovering this mentality, I hope to explore what it means to commit a year or two to… life.