There’s a lot that I've told myself that I want to accomplish. It includes getting about five degrees, finding somewhere to work that’s perfect for me, and fixing pretty much all of the world’s problems. When I frame my goals like this though, they seem stressful and pretty much impossible.
Contrast this to what I did yesterday. I got woken up by a sorority yelling on the field outside my room at 6:15 AM, went to the library, studied a bit for statistics, went to class, studied a bit more and went to lunch, went to another class and then studied some more. Also not an easy day, but it’s manageable.
But does it keep me on track for the goals mentioned above? The answer is that I have no idea. There were parts that could play a huge role in my future and parts that were probably a complete waste of time.
The question, then, is how do you sort between the wasted effort and the important things? In my opinion, you don’t.
Instead, you just let life come at you as it naturally should. When you find out that there’s a class that relates to your goals, you take it, and when you find out that you don’t like that class, you plan next semester with nothing even remotely like it. When you have a test coming up, or an opportunity available, you do your best. But you don’t force yourself to be something that you don’t actually care about, even if you love the idea of accomplishing it. That’s a waste of time, which for me was three years of piano lessons in which I never practiced and therefore learned pretty much nothing.
So why set goals? Because we do have a lot of opportunities here, and there’s thousands of things we could do here that would be a great use of our time.
Goals, though, aren’t something you should come in with clearly defined. You should have a general idea of what you like—a major maybe, and some interests within it, but you should be open to the idea of them changing. In other words, goals are a starting point, not the end result. Otherwise, it’s really difficult to enjoy the process of learning. There’s just too much of a focus on what you haven’t done yet, even though you’ll definitely be working incredibly hard as a student here. And from experience I can say that this gets frustrating. Besides, you really don’t know what you’re going to like until you’ve done it.