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"Embracing Uncertainty: Finding Comfort in the Journey of Self-Discovery"

by Mo Brown

When we are born, our parents imagine who we will be: a doctor, a lawyer, a professional athlete. Perhaps we'll follow in their footsteps and choose the same profession or take over the family business. When we were kids, we were asked who we wanted to be. We answered things like a rock star, doctor, veterinarian, artist, writer, teacher, movie star, spy, ninja chef, unicorn kitty doctor, ballerina, and Spiderman. The list was endless, and our imaginations meant the sky was the limit. As we got older, the question resurfaced, and we were expected to give a serious answer. For a lot of people, the answer is easy. They already knew what career they wanted and how they would achieve it. They have it all planned out. But what happens if we don't know who we want to become or what we want to pursue as adults? What happens if a wrench is thrown into a meticulously thought-out plan? 


In today's society, there is a compelling expectation that each person should chart their life precisely from a young age. We are pressured to meet these life "milestones": Graduate high school, go to college, get married in our 20s, have kids, buy a house, and have a full-time career, all before we're 30. This relentless pressure to adhere to established societal benchmarks and achieve specific life milestones often creates an environment full of stress and anxiety. Teenagers on the verge of graduating high school are pressured to select an immediate career and have a plan for how to achieve their career goals. They find themselves caught in the whirlwind of trying to figure out their future while being bombarded with pressure from familial expectations, educational systems, and prevalent media narratives. In an age of exploration and self-discovery, these young individuals are pushed to make decisions about their career paths, often swayed more by external pressures than by their true interests and passions.


Additionally, our society places an emphasis on selecting a profession that not only provides financial stability but also shapes one's identity. The professional world is not only about earning money but also about social status and personal value. This societal expectation adds to the stress on teenagers to pick careers that align with norms and maintain a certain level of prestige. The fear of judgment or straying from choices can dampen spirits and prevent individuals from exploring different career options.  It can feel daunting to be on a path that deviates from the "typical" milestones.  How do we navigate a journey with no destinations?  How do we discover who we are?


The process of self-discovery is profound and transformative and something we all go through as we navigate life complexities.  It's not a linear path but rather a continuous evolution shaped by our various experiences.  From significant life events to educational pursuits, each moment shapes our development and contributes to a deeper understanding of ourselves.  From the early years of schooling to higher education (if we choose to pursue it) and beyond, learning serves as a catalyst for personal and intellectual growth.  Through education, we are exposed to viewpoints, fresh concepts, and alternative ways of thinking that push us to broaden our perspectives and reassess our preconceived notions.  College, in particular, marks a pivotal time in many people's lives—a time for exploration, introspection, and uncovering one's passions and interests.


I changed my major five times over the course of my first four years in college. When I graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to major in, but I wanted to become a medical doctor of some kind. I ended up choosing chemistry because someone had told me to pick my major based on my favorite subject. That year had been AP Chemistry. I ended up changing my mind during college orientation, right before I picked my first college classes. I decided to change it to psychology because I still wanted to go to medical school, but the list of chemistry classes didn't excite me. Then, I took Intro to Criminal Justice to fulfill one of the general education requirements, and I found it so captivating that I added it as my second major. Then, I took Intro to Statistics in my sophomore year, and it quickly became my favorite class. I thought about minoring in statistics, but I  ended up switching out psychology and declaring statistics as my second major. I still dreamed of becoming a doctor, but now I wanted to have a Ph.D instead of an M.D. I envisioned being a criminologist or a profiler. I very briefly had the dream of becoming a lawyer. I even took the LSAT, the entrance exam for law schools. Then, I took Economics and Accounting to fulfill some more general education requirements, and I loved them both so much that I considered changing my major again. After guidance from one of my economics professors, who believed that economics would complement my quantitative skills and my other major, statistics, I decided to drop criminal justice and pursue economics as a second major. 


For me, college was a significant transitional period - a thoughtful and explorative phase where I explored different paths before I settled on a definitive career trajectory. I thought I had my life all figured out. I was going to go to grad school, earn a PhD in Statistics, and eventually become a professor or a data scientist. However, life isn't straightforward like that. As my dad says, “Life gets sideways sometimes. Watch out for those turns.” Life is a journey filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, and unexpected detours. It's a journey comprised of surprises, challenges, and pivotal moments that shape who we are.


During my final semester at the University of Wyoming, I applied for Master’s programs in Data Science. I was excited about this new chapter. Then, in March, the college sent us home for spring break and then canceled in-person classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My college experience ended abruptly. I didn't even get a graduation ceremony. That chapter of my life was now over, but it didn't feel like it was closed. The world was shut down. I started grad school in the fall, but I started in my living room rather than a classroom.  I ended up hating my grad school program. It wasn't anything like I imagined it would be, so I made the decision to leave. This shift left me feeling adrift, unsure of what direction to take. It's often said, "Do what you love. You'll never work a day in your life," along with "Find inspiration in the world around you." One of my passions has always been watching cooking shows. I loved watching those cooking competitions and seeing the chefs create food masterpieces. So, I decided to go to culinary school. I got a job in the culinary field and finished school. Somewhere along the way, I realized I liked baking more than cooking. I think I liked the precision that comes with baking. When my current job became frustrating due to excessive overtime and feeling undervalued, I decided to seek a new opportunity. I found a small health food store advertising for a new baker about an hour away from my home. I moved away from home and started my new job. It was my first real venture into living independently. I truly enjoyed the experience and gained valuable knowledge during my time there. I loved the town's atmosphere, and my coworkers and I got along well. It felt like home. Unfortunately, the store had to close down due to some issues between the owners. I suddenly had to scramble to find another job, and I was desperate to stay in the culinary field because I thought I had finally found the path I was meant to be on. 


When faced with adversity, it is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged. However, it is important to remember that these moments of struggle are essential for our personal growth and development. It is through challenges that we discover our inner strength and ability to overcome obstacles. Life's journey is not meant to be easy, but through these trials and tribulations, we become better versions of ourselves. By welcoming uncertainty and seeking out new experiences, one can stretch the limits of their comfort zone. This process fosters the development of essential life skills such as adaptability, resilience, and problem-solving. Importantly, this growth is not tethered to a specific endpoint; rather, it unfolds continuously as one navigates through varied experiences. The future eludes prediction, and control over life's myriad aspects remains an illusion. 


After being out on my own for almost six months, rent being hard to meet even in an income-based apartment, and finding it hard to be so far away from my family, a job opportunity came up at my mom's office. My mom was the chief engineer at a local company, and they were having difficulty finding a competent drafter. I had helped out for a few days while I was home for Thanksgiving, and the company president noticed how well I was doing and encouraged me to apply for the full-time position. So I did. I got the job and moved back in with my mom. During those three months, I worked there, I started reminiscing about the engineering class I took in high school. I enjoyed that class so much, and I remember how bad I felt about being left out of the next-level class despite priority being given to sophomores. Engineering was the dream I had let go of in high school, but I found myself being drawn back, so I began exploring online programs in the field. Then life threw me a curve ball. My mom received a less-than-exemplary review despite her hard work drastically improving the quality of parts and minimizing the cost of having to do warranty work. She decided to take a position at another company. I would have been left by myself in the engineering department, which seemed like a bad idea since I had no formal training, so I also had to go. I got a position at a local excavation company, but I was still drawn to engineering. I found a program I thought would be a good fit and started in the summer of 2023. But as Thanksgiving approached again, I realized the program wasn't quite the right fit for me. So, I researched programs again and transferred to the University of Maine at the end of the semester. 


One of the most powerful lessons we learn from life-changing events is resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to change, and continue to move forward despite challenges. It is the strength we draw upon in difficult times, the courage we muster to face our fears, and the determination to never give up. Furthermore, these moments of transformation also allow us to reevaluate our priorities and values. When faced with a significant life event, we are forced to reassess what truly matters to us and what we want to prioritize in our lives. It is a chance to reflect on our beliefs and values and make changes that align with our authentic selves. Ultimately, life-changing events serve as a catalyst for growth and self-discovery. They allow us to break free from our comfort zones, push ourselves beyond our limits, and expand our perspectives. While these experiences may be difficult and challenging, they are also opportunities for personal growth and development. Embracing these moments and learning from them is essential to living a fulfilling and fulfilling life. Life is a journey, and through these ups and downs, and twists and turns, we truly discover who we are and what we are capable of. To truly embrace an open-ended journey, one must cherish the process of exploration. This approach involves more than merely aiming for final outcomes or specific destinations; it requires recognizing the value in the experiences and growth that unfold along the way. Life's journey is often perceived as a relentless pursuit of certainty, a series of decisions aimed at carving out a clear path. Yet, as we navigate through an ever-changing world, the ability to accept and find peace in the midst of uncertainty becomes crucial. This shift in perspective, from a fear-driven view to one of curiosity and openness, transforms uncertainty from a daunting obstacle to a fertile ground for growth and discovery.


I've come to realize that life isn't just a straightforward path but rather a lifelong odyssey that is shaped by a myriad of experiences. It requires us to be open-minded, adaptable, and willing to embrace change. By navigating through life's twists and turns with courage and resilience and by heeding the wisdom of our inner voice, we can uncover our true purpose and live a more meaningful and purposeful life. Self-discovery is not a destination but rather an ongoing process of growth, learning, and transformation. It is a journey that invites us to explore the depths of our being, to challenge our beliefs, and to ultimately become the best version of ourselves. So I urge you, my fellow travelers on the journey of self-discovery, to embrace uncertainty with an open heart and an open mind. Trust in the process, trust in yourself, trust in the infinite wisdom of the universe. Embrace the beauty of the unknown, the magic of the unexpected, the joy of the unscripted.  And remember, in the words of the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

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