On Ambition

I used to be what most people would call an ambitious person. That is to say, I knew exactly where I wanted to go in life, and it was a place that everyone respected. I was also willing to do everything necessary to get there–the perfect grades, prestigious college, and on and on.

What my actual ambition was doesn’t matter, because I had several phases that I went through. I remember at one point I wanted to be a psychologist. Then an architect, then a physicist, then a lawyer, then a statistician, then an economist, then a sociologist, and then, finally, a journalist. That was the dream that ultimately led to the breakdown of all the other dreams.

My parents were always very proud of me for being so ambitious, even if what I actually wanted to do was always changing. That, after all, was only natural, and it was clear to everyone that I had what it takes to get to the top of any field I chose. My parents were certain that once I started college, I’d immediately settle down with whatever major happened to be conveniently available to me and begin the process of climbing up the totem pole like a good little girl.

Well, what they forgot to tell me was that it’s pretty damn hard to be ambitious when you no longer know what the hell you want to do with your life. Journalism sucked, sociology might as well have been Political Correctness 101, and I’m terrible at science, so I picked psychology. But then I started having doubts. What if I’d make the most amazing computer programmer in the world? Or photographer, or novelist, or graphic designer, or architect, or engineer?

But all of these paths were closed off to me, because most of them don’t even have departments at my school, and those that do are special programs that one needs to apply for (much like my nemesis, journalism). Furthermore, I could no longer afford to take any more random classes if I wanted to graduate on time (which I must, given the cost of attending college). The uncomfortable truth was that you really can’t be whatever you want to be. If I wanted to study architecture or engineering, I should’ve thought of that earlier. But I didn’t, and besides, there was still no guarantee I’d like any of those, either. I was now, I realized, completely and inexorably stuck. And that’s when I lost my ambition–and my faith in myself.

I don’t know how, at 18 years old, I was supposed to just magically know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I certainly didn’t get any room for experimentation. I spent freshman year slaving away in the name of journalism and ended up choosing psychology because it seems to be the only subject I’m good at. But as for architecture and other subjects not even offered at my school, who knows? Maybe in a parallel universe, I could’ve designed a revolutionary green skyscraper or the next crazy-popular Apple gadget, or coded a new Google project or a better version of Windows. Not in this universe, though.

Life without ambition is a new experience for me. These days I couldn’t care less about my future. I don’t really try that hard in my classes, and I avoid internships like the plague. All I want to do is read books and lie by the pool. After all, if I’m going to get trapped into a life I never wanted anyway, why bother working hard for it? Might as well enjoy whatever freedom I have left.

If that seems nihilistic, well, most people hate their jobs. This is nothing unusual. I’ve just realized earlier than most people that all that bullshit they tell you about how any dream is achievable is really just bullshit. It’s really all just a matter of luck. Some people get lucky and happen upon the right calling, and others don’t.


Imagine for a moment spending five years of your life dreaming, and working for that dream to become a reality. You lose your mind studying, make sacrifices, and mentally torture yourself each time you mess up. And then your dream finally materializes.

That’s what I did. I wanted to go to Northwestern. I did everything and anything I could. Took classes I hated so much they made me cry, quit my favorite activity for a prestigious summer program, abandoned all attempts at having a social life, and studied till my eyes bled. And got in.

And then…then I got there. My dream school. Northwestern. I had a wardrobe full of purple and a heart full of hope. There I was, in the beautiful city by the lake and my top-choice college with its top-ranked journalism school. This was it. I was going to become better, meet new people, learn, grow.

And. I. Hated. It.

It’s taken me this long to admit it, but it’s the truth–I hate my dream school.

Don’t get me wrong. The classes are pretty interesting. The professors are great. The campus is gorgeous. Chicago is awesome. There’s a beach here. Food’s good. Blahblah.

But let’s face it. I fit in here about as much as an Eskimo in the Sahara. I don’t get these people and I don’t feel like a part of anything. I’ve tried and tried joining clubs, but I just don’t feel engaged.

I hate the horrible weather, and I hate the way people expect me to spend my weekends getting so drunk I throw up. I hate the cliques. I hate the people who post on College ACB, demeaning others, sometimes by name. (Don’t believe me? http://collegeacb.com/sb.php?school=NW) And the people who tell their girlfriends to dress better so their stupid frat brother friends will accept them.

I hate the way student organizations are really just glorified social clubs, and if you show up without a friend, you’ll leave without one, too. I hate the way nobody ever talks about what they’re learning. I never hear anybody being passionate about biology, English, anthropology, or physics. Just movies, TV shows, parties, friends, drinking. I hate the way nobody reads books unless they’re assigned for a class.

Now before someone posts on here telling me how wrong I am and how I’m just an antisocial nerd who needs to get out more, I know that there are plenty of exceptions to what I just described. There always are. But the fact is that the prevailing culture here accepts and embraces it, and people like me who don’t like it tend to stay quiet.

For once in my life, I thought I’d be happy. I thought it’d be wonderful to get something I’d worked so hard for. After all, the best part of dreaming is making your dreams come true, and that’s what I did. On my own. I was so proud of myself, for once. I felt lucky that out of so many people I knew, I was one of the few who actually got to go to their dream schools.

But I guess fate tricked me once again.

This isn’t my place. All that work was for nothing. Those sacrifices? Meaningless. All for a dream that I would soon grow to hate. It might’ve been good for my brain (though most days I’m not even sure about that), but it was awful for my soul.

Now I’m stuck in a place I don’t belong, and it’s all my fault. That’s what you get for dreaming. I should’ve just let things happen to me, sat by and gotten B’s, gone to Ohio State like a good girl. Then I wouldn’t have to face the humiliation of achieving my dream and hating it.

I don’t know what it is. Everybody loves college. Everybody loves Northwestern. Something’s wrong with me and I don’t know what it is or how to fix it. Maybe there’s a gene everyone but me has. Maybe some crucial part of my brain is malformed. Trust me, if I could just take a magic pill that makes me normal, I would.

I’ve pissed away my entire freshman year trying and failing to make this work. I lie every single time someone asks me how I’m enjoying my Dream School. I say it’s wonderful. It’s not.

But at least I’m almost a quarter of the way through this torture.

My advice? Don’t waste your time. I learned in my sociological analysis class that even the most sound theories should not necessarily be implemented as policy because there are, essentially, a million ways in which things can go wrong. Same goes for individual lives. I’ve hit on one of those million ways, and now I regret ever having dared to dream.

Now I know I can’t trust my instincts, and I’m wondering why I should even bother working hard when I inevitably end up hating whatever it is I worked for. In high school, which I couldn’t wait to get out of, I at least had friends and a loving family to come home to every day. College is like high school without those saving graces.

I realize already that if any Northwestern people saw this, they would probably comment all over this saying that I’m an idiot and how dare I post this and what the fuck is wrong with me. Don’t believe me? Check out the comment section of any opinion article on the Daily Northwestern’s website. Enthusiastic suppression of dissenting viewpoints is as much de rigueur on this campus as money and skinny jeans.

In the meantime, these endless lonely hours have led me to do some research. My new dream school has the nation’s number-one psychology department. It has a beautiful campus and beautiful weather. I’d never have to wear the ugly down coat I practically lived in this entire winter. My new dream school is known for its lack of a party scene and its preponderance of nerds–people like me. It’s located near a city that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness, not snobbism and pretentiousness.

But my new dream school is Stanford, and even if I managed to get in–1% acceptance rate for transfer applications–it’s much too far away.

And besides, I think I’ve learned my lesson about dreams.