Might I ask for some advice?

by AmagicalFishy4 min read18th Nov 201123 comments


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If you're expecting anything but a long post by an LW lurking college student asking sincerely for some advice, you should read The Curse of Identity, the article that spurred this very post. It's a good read, regardless of my advice-seeking status. With that said: Hello. I'm an LW lurking college student in need of advice, and this is my long post asking for it. I hope this isn't inappropriate.

Mainly, this comes down to my hardly having a satisfying direction in life. I'm ignorant as to the reasons behind my lack of some fully functional inner compass. Is it that I just haven't found my passion—my niche in life? Or am I just lazy? Are the goals I want to achieve products of genuine interest, or are they methods of preserving a reputation which I (admittedly) very much enjoy having? Is my discouragement something I must use instrumental rationality to overcome, a sign that I'm fooling myself; one I should listen to and change something, or just a natural feeling when a particular situation is difficult? Is my not having direction a reasonable, youth-related status (is 22 that young?), or a sign that I've been doing something horribly wrong?

I've always enjoyed, and associated myself with writing and literature—but not to the extent that I feel the need to pursue a formal academic degree for them. When I started school, I majored in Philosophy because I like different philosophies, philosophizing, and the philosophers who did so before me. Then I dropped out for a couple of years and lived half-way across the U.S. with (at the time) my girlfriend. Currently, I'm back in school majoring in Physics and Mathematics (I've always wanted to study sub-atomic particles—I also enjoy mathematics, mathematical thinking, etc., and the two compliment one another well).

So now I'm in school for Physics and Mathematics, and, while I enjoy the subjects, when I'm actually doing things related to the fields, I'm consistently discouraged. I feel like I'm not learning anything, trucking through problems without an actual understanding of the material, and by the time I finish what needs to be done for one class, I have a load of work for another, leaving me little time to, say, work through actual proofs of why something works (or, more likely, my time-management skills are atrocious. This combined with a large work-load leaves me little time). My problem comes ultimately from my trying to figure out what other problems are. For example:
I see homework as that which actually teaches me to use the concepts I learn in Physics or Calculus. The more I wade through the many online interfaces through which I do my homework, the less I like what I'm doing. If I like Mathematics, I should similarly like the ideas in Mathematics. If I'm more and more disliking doing the homework—that is, actually learning how to use the concepts—then do I really like Mathematics, or do I just like the idea of it?
I've come to the conclusion that the online interfaces are what make working on a subject unenjoyable—I blame them on my growing discontent with whatever I'm doing. (MyMathLab, WebWork, WebAssign, MasteringPhysics, etc. are targets of wide-spread hatred among the student bodies of all 3 schools I've been to). But I realized something: When I genuinely understand the work, and when I'm able to do it well—I don't mind these interfaces in the slightest. Perhaps it's the lack of immediate feedback on what (out of the many potential things) I've done incorrect that annoys me. Maybe I just feel better doing things from a textbook. My lack of understanding in something is definitely correlated to how much, on a face-value level, I like something. It can't just be the online interfaces themselves.
After some thought, I lose any grasp of what the problem actually is. I truly enjoy ideas in Physics, but do I want to do Physics? I think so. Is it just the way it's taught and the way I'm learning it that brings about my discouragement, which brings about these questions? Should I, instead of thinking of a different major, try to learn differently? Does every potential physicist ask themselves these questions? When I tell someone my major is Physics, they give me the "Wow-I could-never-do-that-you've-got-something-wrong-with-you" expression. I like that reaction. How much does that play into my thinking I want to major in Physics? It feels great when I manage time in such a way that I can sit down and actually understand particular concepts—does this mean I really should be doing physics because I genuinely like it? Should I suck it up, stop analyzing, and grind through everything until I'm a master at it? (Eat your heart out, MasteringPhysics) Etc., etc., etc.
I think the reasonable answer to this line of questioning would be, "If you have so many damned questions about this, you should change majors!"
The Actual Problem
The problem is that seemingly every endeavor ends in this way, regardless of academic major or goal: This sticky entanglement of questions and different approaches in the face of opposing force concludes in my having no idea where one problem starts and another one stops. My motivation to do anything fizzles in the obscurity that my (apparently inefficient) analytic mind becomes when spread over such a huge range of inquiries.

And the only constant through all of this is that I'd rather sit down, shut off my brain, and play video games until my eyes redden and I can crawl into bed and sleep instantly. But whenever I have those days, I feel like I've wasted huge amounts of time when I could otherwise be doing something productive. 

In fact, I used to say I'd have a profession in the video game industry when I was younger; computers and video games have always been a huge part of my life, and I love programming (though I've never taken any formal classes, so I'm by no means an expert. My referring to it generally as "programming" is probably indicative of my being a novice). I considered whether or not I should change my major to something computer related—but, since this is what usually happens, I'm not sure whether or not it'd be a worthwhile thing to do. Will my love for programming fade away as I'm introduced to more rigorous methods and subject to various assignments and deadlines? Do I just dislike structure? Need I force myself into enjoying a more structured environment? Is this even a question of whether or not I enjoy a particular field?

Oh, no. No, no, no . . . am I . . . am I a free spirit!?

Potential Solution

Just writing this post has helped me in organizing my thoughts, and I'm considering this: Take all of my questions (they've got to be fininte) and provide counter-examples that would help me answer them. So, "Is it just the way it's taught and the way I'm learning it that brings about my discouragement, which brings about these questions?" Might be counter-questioned by my asking myself, "Is there something enjoyable I can think of that, regardless of how it's taught or how I'm learning it, I'd still thoroughly enjoy?"

What is the better way of going about this? Where am I being particularly irrational or biased? How would you folks go about solving this?

Apologies if this post is convoluted or confusing.

Edit: Thanks for all your responses, guys. They've been immensely helpful. The main points I've gathered are:

a) There's nothing particularly irrational or unreasonably biased in what my position is—it's normal. 
b) Passion and enjoyment aren't necessities for a satisfying, fulfilling direction (though they help). If anything, the idea of working for your "passion" is a kind of feel-good idiom.

There've also been posted some excellent articles:
Curing Deep Procrastination
The Science of Loving What You Do
Approval and Low-Effort Behaviors

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