Back in junior year of high school, my AP US History teacher scared the heck out of everyone. I think he liked me well enough, but I recall how every time he would ask a question – what was the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo? why did Andrew Jackson shut down the National Bank? – all my classmates and I would look down at our notes, afraid of making eye contact. One day, he asked a different type of question.
“How much good do I have to do?” he asked. “I work hard to teach you guys, I do my best to be a good husband to my wife and a good father to my kids. But how much more am I responsible for?”
As a freshman in college, that question still gets to me.
I hit a road block while considering my career options last week. As someone who wants to spend his life helping people in some capacity, working as a psychologist always appealed to me – my career would include aiding clients with serious pathologies or problems, and I would maybe end up as a professor in an area that I gravitate toward. However, after performing some research and talking with a few upperclassmen, the idea of applying to a clinical psychology Ph.D. program intimidated me: even as a freshman, I already felt like I wasn’t good enough.
I think most people who dedicate their lives to helping others – through counseling, teaching, social work, etc. – act as a collective candle. If we had to, we could go to law school or business school and do well enough to get a decent job and earn a solid income. However, like a candle, we do not feel lit from within by doing just that. As idealistic as it sounds, we’re only truly alive when we bring light to other people during dark and harrowing times.
But darkness will always descend. There’s no way one person will eliminate all of the problems in the world. We should still strive to do our best and make as much of an impact as we can, but it’s okay to relieve our shoulders of the burden sometimes. So many possibilities exist for improving the lives of others, ranging from volunteering at a homeless shelter to helping a neighbor with her groceries. That’s why, after much
unnecessary and melodramatic introspection, I came to my answer: one more person. Do enough good to help one more person, and keep doing that, because it will accumulate over time and lead to something greater on its own, without the stress of always worrying about the entire world.
Two days ago, I sat on the soft carpet in the living room of my cousin’s house, playing a board game with her. A rising seventh grader, she told me about the electives she wanted to take in middle school next year, going through them one by one. It took me by surprise – and made me so, so proud – when she called out her mother for telling her to take Home Economics instead of Tech Explorations just because of her gender. “That’s sexist,” she said, “I don’t want to be trapped in a gender role. You always liked English more than Science even though you’re a boy, and you’re at a great college.”
At 12, my little cousin already stands for feminism and homosexual equality. While I cannot take all of the credit for her beliefs, I like to think our discussions have influenced her, even if only a little bit. And, who knows – maybe she’ll change the mindsets of those around her, one conversation at a time.
What do you guys think? How do you break up your future goals into smaller bits? Or do you not feel anxiety about lofty aspirations? I’m so excited to become a teacher or a psychologist or a counselor or a writer – ah, the luxury of life’s possibilities. I hope you are all doing well and I will write again as soon as possible! Also, if you want to check out my thoughts on Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen or How to Win at College by Cal Newport here and here, respectively.