I opened my phone to see a text message from my roommate: "Hi Jessica! I have a meeting in our room starting in 15. Do you mind clearing out for those 30 minutes? Thank you!" I can picture her cheery voice clearly. I had just gotten out of Astronomy 120 – why didn't I drop that class again? I was planning on reading a new book while procrastinating on my history reading back in my room. Plan ruined.
Sigh. Guess I'll hang out in the Shakespeare Gardens until then. At least it was still warm enough to sit outside. I decided to catch up on all of my emails; that way, I can say that I was productive today. It was a monotonous scroll: Club listservs, Chapin's weekly Monday emails, Handshake resume and cover letter appointments I’ve previously scheduled. Crap. I'm supposed to have a meeting with Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA) over my resume and cover letter. The resume writing was easy; I could list a few clubs that I'm a part of. The cover letters were the hard part since I needed to tailor them to specific jobs.
And this is where my anxiety goes. Because I have no idea where to apply.
I'm a second-year at Northwestern. The glitz and glam of "oh my gosh, I'm in college!" has worn off. Now, I've met people in my grade who have declared double majors and summer internships already lined up. I don't particularly have any burning passions like the Theater kids, who walk with such confidence, or the ones in the Garage, who started their own businesses. My goal for college was just to "figure it out" later.
Only today was later. And the last later.
I decided to browse Reddit, and the r/Northwestern thread popped up immediately. I usually get messages about terrible professors and housing choices, but today I was in crisis mode. I quickly searched, "I don't know what I'm doing with my life."
And something popped up. The post was from about 7 years ago.
"Hi! I'm a freshman at NU. I thought that I was going to be a chemist all my life, but after taking Chem 151 I knew it definitely wasn't for me. Now I feel like I don't know what to do. Any suggestions from upperclassmen?" Many replies were about trying new things and exploring hobbies – useless, except for one curious comment at the end.
"There's an urban legend that there is a place on campus where you can see your future. Go to the archway on Tech Drive on Monday at exactly 12:33pm. Come from the side with the loading docks. Think about one thing in your future that you want to know as you're walking through the walkway on the left side. You'll see an answer."
What a load of crap. I'm sure I would have heard about this if it were true. There was no response from the original poster, so I don't know if this worked. Screw it. I decided to send the original poster a message. I added my comment to the thread.
"Hey, did this work? Or was it a scammer, haha?" Did that sound cool enough?
To my surprise, I got an immediate response.
"Oh it definitely worked! I got a vision of how I was on a stage in costume – so I joined one of the theater boards on campus! It ended up being my passion!"…Eh? They started to send me links to the productions that they were in. "If you have no direction, try it! It's a lifesaver!"
My brain started to whir. I could learn what my passions are. Get clarity on where to submit my applications. Actually start enjoying college. The hope was infectious. Today is Monday, right? I quickly checked the time on my phone.
It was 12:25pm. I could still make it.
I started to bolt to Tech, even though I knew that this was absolutely absurd. Seeing the future was not real. And yet, I found myself in front of the arch at 12:32. I caught my breath and looked at the arch. Most of it was stained a darker color of beige, with streaks of the original peaking through. Thin vines stretched from the left side, not quite reaching the end. A small window was above and to the center, was someone watching me? I approached the little walkway, next to the Stop Sign for cars that drove down the cracked road.
I took a deep breath as the clock hit 12:33.
"Where should I apply?" Two answers in one – my passions and where to go from here. I stepped in, closed my eyes, and passed through the walkway.
My hope deflated.
"Of course it's not real," I laughed, starting to turn around. "I must look like a crazy person–"
My vision suddenly went black.
When I came to, I was at home.
"What?" This was my room, right? And I was standing in it.
"Oh my gosh!" I looked over to see that another version of me was reading a book, one I've been meaning to read for a while. The calendar on my desk said July 2023.
This is what I'm doing for my job? Does that mean that I'm a failure? That fear came true: I never realized what I wanted to do and just chose to read for the rest of my life. I looked to see my dad peeking in the door.
"Dinner is ready." He said.
"I'll be there soon!" Vision me went back to giggling at her book. I saw him shaking his head as he went downstairs. The vision faded out.
I stayed in shock as the time hit 12:34pm. I then got another message from my roommate.
"Hey Jessica! Sorry about the last-minute change; I know you usually read your books during this time! Thank you so much!"
I dropped to my knees.
I canceled all of my NCA appointments. I went to class – I already came this far and might as well finish Fall Quarter. But I didn't try as much. After all, I'm useless – my life is just spent in escapism because I'm garbage. I spent my afternoons and weekends on BookTok.
"Hi! Jessica!" About a week later, my roommate startled me from my scrolling on Tuesday. We don't talk much; we were roommates last year, but we have a system that works. I looked up and took out my headphones. "I'm running Munchies today. Can you help me bring down the snacks for everyone?" I looked at the grocery bags that were on the floor nearby.
"Sure." I can finish my video later.
The Chapinos (Chapin Residents) were already gathered for Chapin’s weekly snack event, Munchies. My roommate and I set up the chips and salsa. My roommate went all out; I saw five different types of salsa.
I decided to stay and get some chips; it would be weird if I didn't. I listened to the freshmen talk about gen chem and flunking the language classes. It was…soothing, in a way. I found myself laughing and advising them on what English classes to take for the distribution requirement. I caught my roommate looking at me with a bright smile. So this was her plan.
As we walked to our room, carrying the leftovers, she spoke.
"Are you an English major?"
"Me? No." I said. "Why?"
"Seriously?" She was shocked. "I would have bet all of my money on it. Whenever I see you, you're reading a new book or calling your mom to talk about books." She hears that? Ugh, so embarrassing.
"Yeah," I said shyly. "It's an escape from my painful existence."
"That may be." She said, considering. "But I'm always jealous. I've never seen someone so passionate about something before." Passionate? Reading is just a hobby. It's not a real job. "Anyways." She turned to our door. "I don't really know what's going on." She started, "And I know that we don't really talk. But I'm here for you. Always." That warmed my heart.
I have a hobby. Yes. And can that be important? I don't know. But today, I was reminded of how fun college can be.
…I don't want to be a failure.
I scheduled a meeting with my academic advisor for the next day.
"I have a question." I said on the Zoom call. "In all honesty, I have no idea what I'm doing. I don't know what classes to take, or what my major or minor is. But I want to believe that I have something going for me. The only thing I'm passionate about is reading. Is there…something that I could do with that?" He smiled wide at me.
"Have you ever heard of the Summer Undergraduate Research Grant?" He asked. “It’s a grant where you can research just about whatever you want. One of my previous students read a bunch of books of her choosing as a part of hers. And you can do it wherever fits best!”
“I haven’t.” A smile began to grow on my face. “Please, tell me more.”
Thumbnail graphic by Iliana Garner