I was once asked who my archnemesis was, and although I can think of plenty of great contenders (the guy who spilled milk on me at Ferris, Lerner’s staircases, the heating that is still on in East Campus, to name a few) my only real answer was uncertainty.
Uncertainty is the feeling you had on Nov. 6, 2016, when you saw that Pennsylvania didn’t go to Hillary right away and you began questioning her chance of winning. It is sending the guy you like a “Want to grab drinks?” text and seeing a read receipt but no response. It is sending in a job application to one of those companies that only contact you if you are deemed a qualified candidate. It is the opaque fog that frosts the future.
It is the dreaded feeling that hindsight will have rendered you a fool, that feeling that makes me want to take cover in the bunker of certitude.
Up until this point I have basically (to shoehorn a bad stats metaphor) tried to keep the p-value less than 0.05 in all my life decisions. When conducting regression analysis, you are told the correlation between two variables is more likely if the p-value is less than 0.05—your thesis is more correct if you are more certain. However, as a graduating senior I often feel uncertain about what feel like the biggest decisions of my life. I still vacillate between wanting to be a researcher at a global health lab, a paralegal at a law firm, or a business administrator at a startup.
I often find myself facetiously drawing an analogy between my own college days and my mother’s. I find myself questioning it all, from what I want to be to what I really believe, while she knew she was getting a master’s degree in accounting and then getting married to someone whom my grandparents chose. I remember letting it slip to my mom that I envied her assurance in knowing how she’d end up—being coddled by plans with no room for unpredictability. And she, a little annoyed, remarked that I should learn to embrace the uncertainty as if it were a privilege. I let her comment slide, chalking it up to a bad day she may have had.
In retrospect, I do not think my mom expressed just a common envy of her time and generation. Yes, I assent that “privilege” may not be the perfect terminology to use, but I think my mom pointed to the larger phenomenon of being given the opportunity to explore, to make the right choice, and to sometimes make the wrong choice. Most students who attend Columbia are allowed the privilege to be uncertain about the future—to make a mistake and get a second chance (and more often than not, a third and a fourth).
We can spend a year as paralegals at a top firm and then decide to end up in marketing for a tech company, and really no one would blink an eye at that whiplash of a career switch. We often don’t know what city we will be in for the next two years, let alone the next 10. Forget about my mom living in a small town in 1980s India; let us compare ourselves to our own peers in most of America who do not attend four-year institutions: 77 percent of college graduates have changed communities at least once, compared to only 56 percent of high school graduates. One study even asserts that millennials are expected to have between 15 and 20 jobs in their lifetimes.
For many of us, our degrees, our education, and the support of our peers and family permit us to be uncertain in ways that were not available to past generations, or even to other millennials who do not have the opportunity to attend institutions like Columbia. Malcolm Gladwell powerfully proclaimed in his Revisionist History podcasts, “Privilege means you get second chances.” Without drawing attention away from the racial, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic privilege or lack thereof on this campus, I find that most of us who attend Columbia are privileged because we will get that second chance—be it the second glance at your résumé even though you have had no prior experience in the field because of the institutional name, or simply the financial and moral support from family to try new things.
For now, I am just trying to embrace my archnemesis as an advantage rather than a curse and be okay with the fact that most of my life decisions will have a p-value greater than 0.05.
Rekha Kennedy is a senior majoring in political science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. She is still uncertain about the stats metaphor in this piece. You can follow her on Twitter @RekhaKennedy. Rekhannisance runs alternate Tuesdays.
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