“So, what do you want to do?”

| September 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

I’m a Comparative Literature major nearing graduation. I’m also a person who’s never had a clear answer to the question, “So what do you want to do?”

So I’ve been spending some time reflecting on this.

People always ask you what you want to do, but rarely ask why. But since I don’t have a clear answer to the first question, I tend to start with the second. What do I want out of my work? How will it fit into my life as a whole?

I finally hit upon an answer this past winter.

You see, I spent the fall semester assisting an educational nonprofit in Shanghai. There were many challenges: our program was partly-formed at best, with one full-time staff member and little existing infrastructure. The daily work of assisting computer classes for middle-school students was hampered by my less-than-fluent Chinese. Our students, the children of migrant workers, struggled with basic typing and shied away from what they saw as tasks beyond their depth. I floundered too, trying to regain my technological bearings amid all-Chinese websites and computer programs.

But by the end of it all, I’d tackled some of the gaps in the program’s teaching and administrative materials, improved my verbal and digital fluency, and, best of all, established a rapport with my students. Two months into the semester, my supervisor and I were already talking about whether I could come back the following year.

I left the internship optimistic about our program’s potential impact. I didn’t come to a full realization about it, however, until all the Shanghai Internship Program students convened to share what we’d been working on all semester.

Each of our internships had been interesting and challenging in its own way, but during one classmate’s presentation, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Nothing in the world could persuade me to do that job.” It was work on a plastic surgery consumer app–an app for browsing procedures, simulating effects, contacting surgeons, and so on.

My entirely personal feelings on plastic surgery are…not positive. I tried imagining myself in such work and experienced the emotional equivalent of a transplant rejection. It was “no” made a feeling.

This dramatic reaction sparked a second, calmer realization. A plastic surgery app is the most obvious example of work that I won’t do because I simply can’t get behind its mission at all. But this sheds light on more diluted examples, too: work where I can’t see a clear mission, or where I can’t see a purpose I’d want to add my work towards.

This isn’t an original thought at all, but it was revelatory to spell it out so clearly for my own mind. I’m lucky enough to have choices. If I find work that’s lucrative, but can’t wholeheartedly advance its mission, I can walk away.

Finally feeling able to make that choice is so clarifying.

I want to believe in my work.

It’s not a job description, a salary range, a title, or the name of a company. But it helps give me direction and a better sense of purpose than any of those things could.

It’s not a destination, but it’s a compass. I can’t wait to find out where it’ll steer me.


featured photo credit: Emon Rahman Compass via photopin(license)


Category: featured, Reflections

Huey Wu

About the Author ()

Huey Wu is a Senior studying Comparative Literature. When not writing in a journal, writing for class, or working as a writing tutor, they enjoy volleyball, puzzles, and gentle company.

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