On Priorities

This semester, it became more apparent to me that I cannot have everything I want. I have always had an idealistic view of my life—I would have an amazing career, take photographs of amazing places and get my work in prominent art shows, read and write and travel and expand my mind, have friends who I deeply care about and who care about me, marry an incredible guy, raise compassionate and intelligent children (and a dog), live in a two-story house with my own observatory, run marathons and be a health nut, etc. I thought I would be able to juggle it all, but especially now in college, I’m realizing the tradeoffs and sacrifices that must be made. Perhaps I can’t be rich if I pursue my real passion. Perhaps I won’t have time to take photos if I want to exceed in my field. Perhaps I won’t get to pursue a career at my fullest potential if I spend time raising children.

I know it’s too early to worry about, but I’m already starting to feel the pressure of priorities. And I also suppose there is a time and a place for priorities—maybe now I may be consumed by my studies, but later I will focus on my art.

At the beginning of this semester, I applied to and was selected to be in a freshman seminar (a pass/fail class with only ~10 other students) on photography in the national parks. The topic was exactly what I’m interested in, and the professor was someone I extensively researched about online—I was familiar with her art and watched the videos she had online. I was so excited to learn from a famous photographer who had her work in the MOMA and other places—I had a dream that I would learn so much from her and that somehow I’d turn into an amazing photographer and get my work in museums or something.

But as I sat in class the first day, I realized that all of the time I put into this course would be less time sleeping and doing other work. I also realized that instead of taking a course on photographing national parks, it might be a better use of my time to later just go to national parks myself and take photographs. And as my STEM courses started, I realized that I would never put my photography above my career. I dropped the seminar, and while I won’t say I regret doing so, I will say that it has raised questions about what I value and why I dogmatically “pursue my dreams” rather than broadening my intellectual interests.

I know college is not a pre-professional activity—it’s so much more than that. But at the same time, I realize that I will never feel truly happy if I don’t love my work. And for now, that translates into working hard to get where I want to be in my career. I’m also not sure if this view was inflicted on me by society—after all, “work” is a societal construct. But I do believe that if I spend upwards 60 hours a week on something that I get paid for, I will have to love it.

Some people work to live—I’d say that I live to work. Maybe that’s my view now as a college student, but I have always felt like I needed to fulfill a higher purpose—and for me, that higher purpose comes from how I contribute to society through my career.

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