Editorial Notebook

Don't follow your dreams, revisited

About a year ago, when I was the opinion’s editor of my high school newspaper, I wrote an article titled “Don’t Follow Your Dreams.” Please don’t look it up. The article was clickbaity and not what it seems. It was a message to my class to let them know that it was ok if they got rejected by their dream schools. I ended my piece with the haunting line: “Wherever I end up, dream school or not, I am sure that it will be the right place for me.”

I recently stumbled upon the archives of my work, and boy do I feel humiliated. I wish I could go back in time to 17-year-old me, warn her of the mistake she was about to make and tell her not to choose Rensselaer. Because RPI is not the right school for me for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I don’t enjoy STEM, and I don’t want to study it or dedicate the rest of my life to it. The truth is, I’m not following my dreams, I'm following my parents’. If you told me to disregard everything⁠—my parent’s expectations, money, post-graduate outlook⁠—I would probably be studying journalism and apparel design at NYU or Fordham or something. I’m here at RPI because I know how happy it makes my mother every time she says, “my daughter is studying computer science at RPI.” I know how happy it makes my dad seeing at least one of his three daughters follow his footsteps into the STEM field.

So yeah, I kind of hate my life currently, and I know this sounds like some “woe is me, my life is so hard I have to suffer through this amazing education,” but studying something you have zero passion about, especially when you aren’t very good at it, is extremely dispiriting.

The thing is, even if 17-year-old Deena decided to go to school somewhere closer to home, the current 18-year-old me would probably still be miserable. Here or there, I would still be a CS major, and not just to make my parents happy. I think the reasons my parents want me to study STEM are justified. My dad always told me growing up: “You can be an actor if you want, after you become a doctor.”

My parents don’t think that I’ll be happy unless I am financially independent and able to afford the luxuries I grew up with—and they’re right—but I also know they won’t be happy unless I reach their intended goal. What I am supposed to do, disappoint Leyla and Amin? I can’t do that!

I’m aware that I don’t have to be a CS major to accomplish this goal, but the thing is, I have zero interest in math and science, so what else would I study? Certainly not physics. Maybe I’m being dramatic and I don’t actually hate what I’m studying; I just hate that for the first time I actually have to put in real effort and hours into my work. And I know that the whole point of studying something is to get better at it, but it kills me that I am so bad at my major. I know the mentors and TA’s roll their eyes when they reach my name on the help list, and that does not make me feel better.

I called my uncle during a mental breakdown a few weeks ago, and he broke my heart when he said, “Deena, I hate to sound like your dad but I really think you should stick with CS.” I know he’s right but I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted him to tell me he would support me in whatever I decide to do, but life isn’t always so sweet and simple.

Sometimes we don’t follow our dreams for the happiness of others, and I think that has been my biggest struggle here at college. My parents and my grandparents sacrificed so much to spoil my siblings and I, and now that I’m an “adult” it’s my time to return on those sacrifices. So maybe one day I’ll get to pursue my passions in a professional form, but after I follow my parents’.

I really want to end this on a less depressing note, to give some advice to people who feel like they’re in a similar situation, but I can’t. I am in no position to do that because I don’t have the answers. So that’s me, call me, we can talk more about it.