Where do you see yourself in five years?
I've been thinking a lot about this question over the last few days. In less than two weeks -- 10 days -- I'll be halfway done with my college experience. This is, for many reasons, a terrifying idea, not least because when my sister was my age, I was in 4th grade, worrying more about RuneScape and Kumon and less about living off-campus for the first time, or even for that matter, being a computer science major. I remember thinking that all of that adult stuff -- living alone, being responsible for my actions, and so on -- was so far away, and that it couldn't come soon enough.
In fact, one of the biggest things I was looking forward to when I was in elementary school was control. As a child, I -- in my infinite wisdom -- believed I knew better than my parents in all matters concerning myself, and so I looked forward to the day when I could finally live by myself, control when I did my laundry, when (and what) I ate, and how long I spent working on homework versus playing video games. What I looked forward to most, in fact, was being able to impose some kind of logic on the entire system. I didn't look forward to not doing my laundry every week as much as I looked forward to being able to self-decide when doing my laundry made the most sense. In reality, though, while now I do have that kind of absolute control over things like my bedtime and how often I do my laundry, I still find myself going to bed at unreasonable times, or doing my laundry once every three weeks.
My expectations of college continued to change as I went through middle school. In 7th grade, I bought myself a copy of "Java for Dummies" and decided to go through it and learn how to program. So I downloaded Eclipse (don't blame me, I didn't know vim -- or for that matter even Linux -- existed yet) and started working my way through the book. Unfortunately, any time I started reading, I got caught up on something that I couldn't understand -- and to be fair, the book didn't do a great job explaining anything either -- so I'd get frustrated and quit. (In fact, I remember puzzling over the meaning of the "static" keyword for a really long time.) I barely saw myself ever understanding types, let alone being a computer science major at a top-10 department. One of my goals in middle school was to work at the Apple Store when I turned 18 -- as a Genius, helping people solve their problems. I never even imagined that one day, I'd be spending my summer at Apple, working on the very products I had once aspired to help troubleshoot.
Even in high school my conceptions of college were different. For one thing, I saw myself far away from Texas, following in my sister's footsteps and going to the northeast. I went through a series of different majors, including music, international relations, math, and psychology. It wasn't even until the first semester of my senior year that I even decided to be a computer science major, and it took until my first semester here for me to decide to add math as a second major. I expected myself to join an ancient a cappella group -- like the Men of the College or the Whiffenpoofs (although I never actually applied to either of those schools) -- and yet I found myself joining a group that was started less than five years ago.
So to go back to the original question -- where do I see myself in five years -- the answer now is either working for a startup or going to grad school. The real answer, though, is that I have no idea. In elementary school, my life would be planned out almost-perfectly for me for another decade or so, and yet I never saw myself getting into St. John's for high school. In middle school, I resigned myself to never being able to program well, and in high school I never saw myself as a computer science major until the very end, and yet I'm now a representative for the UT computer science department. Even when my life plan seemed to be entirely structured, in retrospect I never could have predicted half of the things that happened to me. Now, I'm a little more than two years away from being at a point where my life will effectively cease to be structured -- once I graduate, there is no well-established plan for what I should do a year, five years, or ten years from now.
In some way, though, I am incredibly lucky to be in this position. I don't know what I'm going to be doing in five years, and frankly I hope I never do. If I ever get to the point where I know -- not think, but know -- exactly what I'm going to be doing in five years, I want to change where I am. I have been able to have amazing experiences partly because they happened to me while I wasn't paying attention to them, and rather accepted them once they came. That isn't to say that if I do know, that that's necessarily a bad thing, but usually if I know what I'm going to be doing in the next few years, it's a fair chance that my prediction will be fairly similar to what I'm currently doing.
I have been extremely fortunate to get to where I am today. Last year, I wrote an article on my struggle with accepting the fact that I was going to spending four years of my life at UT when I would rather be spending my time elsewhere. I concluded with the realization that my time at UT has lent itself to some unbelievable results. In particular, I mentioned doing research with two honors programs, being a TA for a class, and studying abroad my junior year. Over the last year, a lot of those goals haven't come to fruition, for a variety of reasons. I removed myself from one honors program for scheduling reasons, I was taking too many hours to be able to be a TA, and I found myself unhappy with any of the study abroad options. In many ways, then, I failed to achieve some of my goals from the end of last year. Yet I found myself satisfying so many goals that I didn't even realize I had -- being a CS Ambassador, being published in the Daily Texan, or getting an internship at Apple, to name a few -- that I don't see this year as a loss, but rather a gain in areas in which I never would have expected to see progress.
I would normally end this article -- my last article of the year -- with a list of goals I have for next year, but I find myself unable or unwilling to do so. I certainly still have goals -- graduate in four years, for example -- but I find myself more interested in what might happen -- in what happens while I plan what I want to happen. Hopefully, what I don't know will happen will surprise me more than the accomplishment of goals that I know now. So as this semester wraps up, as finals come and go, I look forward not to what I know will happen, but rather to what unexpected adventures I might experience along the way -- to what happens when I'm not paying attention.