Solomon: Take the Path Less Traveled

by Ioana Solomon | 9/8/16 11:27pm

I will begin with a welcome and a disclaimer.

Welcome to a formidable and highly competitive institution, to a community of intelligent, successful and inspiring individuals who will challenge you and who will make you demand the best of yourself. Most of all, welcome to a place which will, whether you expect it to or not, become your home.

Disclaimer: I am just entering sophomore year, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. I might mistakenly ask you for directions because I still do not know every corner of this campus by heart; I might listen to what you order at the Hop because I have pretty much cycled through the same five orders this entire past year. In the most desperate of times, I might even ask you for advice. I still have no clue what my major is, who I really am or who I want to be in life. You have just as much knowledge and wisdom to impart on me as I have to impart on you. But since I am typing and you are reading, I guess it is my turn to try.

First, a word about academics: some of you will come knowing that you want to be doctors, professors or engineers. Others, like myself, will come with doubt, pushed toward making career choices by your family, friends and high school mentors, or by less tangible infuences such as your high school culture, statistics you read online about Dartmouth alumni and articles titled “Top 100 Best Paying Jobs.” These all give you semi-valid answers, but none with which your heart really agrees.

It is okay to know what you want; it is also okay to not know. Lucikly, we attend an institution at a time when what you study does not automatically dictate what career you end up pursuing. If you know for sure that you want to be a doctor, do not listen to other people telling you that it is too early to be so certain. It is your choice, and, if you feel that you are ready to make it, then by all means, go ahead. On the other hand, do not assume that there is a ticking clock counting down the time you have left to figure out the next fifty years of your life. Yes, you do have to declare a major by the end of sophomore year, but declaring a major is not declaring a career. It is declaring what you want to study, what makes you passionate, what gives you a sense of meaning. Eventually, your major may lead you to certain careers. But do not limit your options. Find a major that inspires you. Find a major that gives you meaning.

On friends: join a sports team. Or don’t. Join a frat. Or don’t. Make your best friends your freshman year. Or don’t. There is nothing to worry about, because things do work out. You will be fine.

On internships: you do not have to work at Goldman Sachs the summer after freshman year. In fact, there is a more than a 99 percent chance that you will not. Dartmouth offers you prestigious resources and opportunities, but do not feel as if you have failed if things do not work out as initially planned.

Let me tell you what I did this summer. I worked for a solar energy company, promoting a no-cost program that would allow low- and middle-class families to save money while switching to clean energy. I was not sitting at a desk in an air conditioned room and working on Excel spreadsheets. I was knocking on around 100 doors a day, in the scorching heat, leaving my house at 10:00 a.m. and coming back at 10:00 p.m. If you know anything about New York City and especially about its streets, you know things are rough. I got doors slammed in my face; I was cursed at, catcalled and pushed to my limits by exhaustion and by the pressure I had been putting on myself to succeed.

This was not the job I would have wanted a year ago, and if I had done things differently, it would not have been the job I had. But I have no regrets. I learned the value of hard-earned money and the ease with which we spend it. With the few families I was able to persuade to sign up, I felt like I had started to make a real impact. I learned about sexism, in real life and in the workplace, in a way in which most of us do not get exposed to at school. In the end, it all worked out. I now care more about green energy, am willing to do more to support the cause and am even changing my major to focus on it. I matured a lot this summer, learned a lot about myself and figured out exactly what I am telling you now — there are no wrong paths to take.

One final thought: if or when you take Economics 1, you will spend a lot of time using the word “counterfactual.” In a two-choice scenario, it is essentially the outcome of the choice you did not make. You will learn ways to estimate it, model it or make assumptions needed to analyze it. In life, though, you cannot do a mockup of the counterfactual. You cannot compare your actual outcomes with the imaginary outcomes that never actually happened. Make the choices you want to or must make, and do not think about what would have happened otherwise.

Whatever choices you make now will be the building blocks toward who you will eventually become. Barring very few exceptions, there are no wrong choices. There are no wrong paths. There are no mistakes, and no “wrong” versions of yourself. There are only the choices you make, the paths you take and the “you” that you become.