Confused About Everything

Feb 03, 2005 |J. Budziszewski

Just months away from graduation and still without a major, Julie is at Theophilus' door, desperate for some guidance.

"Hi, Professor Theophilus!" said Julie. "Aren't you proud of me?"

I raised my eyebrows. "For what?"

"For not running like a chicken with its head cut off, like I usually do. Didn't you notice? I strolled into your office like a civilized person for a change. It's my New Year's resolution. "Don't race. Wherever it is, you'll get there. Whatever it is, it'll wait."

"You get points for the resolution," I said.

"Not for keeping it? Didn't you see how poisedly I came in? If that's a word."

I grinned. "I also heard the clop-clop-clop of your shoes as you sprinted down the hall, and I heard you sliding to a stop just before you came into my field of vision."

She propelled herself into a chair and shrugged her backpack off her shoulders. It fell to the floor with a sound halfway between a plop and a crunch. I hated to think what might be in it. "Resolution Two:" she said with resignation. "While Working on Other Resolution, Get Quieter Shoes."

"Maybe you should make that one Number One. What brings you? More problems with Professor Thanatos?"

"No, I finished his course a long time ago. But I need some advice. I'm confused."

"About what?"

"Everything."

"Are you sure you mean everything?"

"Sure I'm sure."

"Whether or not you exist? Whether it's day or night? Whether two plus two is four?"

"All right, I'm not confused about everything." She sighed violently, like someone jumping on an inflatable sofa that leaked; it was hard to believe that anyone so small as Julie could have so much air in her. "But I'm confused about everything I ought to be getting not confused about at this point in my life."

"That sounds interesting."

"Yeah, like a headache is interesting."

"What do you take these things to be?"

"You mean what do I take the things I ought to be getting not confused about to be, but I am?"

"Overlooking your grammar, yes."

Another whoof of escaping breath; she must have been saving it up all week. "For starters, the registrar's office just found out that I haven't declared a major yet. I was supposed to do that a couple of years ago."

"The University won't let you graduate without a major."

"I don't see why it couldn't. For the longest time, no one noticed anyway. I thought maybe no one would. The registration advisors had a fit when they found out."

"I can imagine."

"They're giving me 72 hours to declare one."

"Or what?"

"Or I'll be terminated."

I raised an eyebrow.

"All right, not terminated. The word is they used is 'expunged.' Not me, my registration. It'll be dumped from the system. Meaning they'll kick me out."

"But all you have to do —"

"— is declare a major before the 72 hours run out. Yeah. Maybe I should declare entomology, huh?"

"Entomology? I thought you didn't like —"

"I don't. But they've named a new bug after me. Didn't I mention it?"

"Bug, as in insect?"

"Bug, as in software. They're calling it Terwilliger's Endless Loop. It seems that the University computer should have blocked me from registering for classes a long time ago. I did something they thought wasn't possible, but don't ask me what, because they won't tell me. Whatever it is, they're rewriting the program to keep anyone from doing it again. No, really. Don't laugh."

I managed to smile instead. "So what will you declare as your major?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you. I don't know. It's one of the things I said I ought to be getting not confused about, but I am. See, I don't know what I'm interested in. I mean, I'm interested in lots of things, but I can't see myself spending my life doing any of them."

"Julie —"

"I know, I know. My friends all say I should have a sense of vocation or calling or something. I don't."

"That's not what I was going to say. At this point, choosing a major is no longer a question of what you're interested in."

"It isn't?"

"No, you're too far along for that. Look over the courses you've taken, compare them with the requirements for different majors, see which one you come closest to, and declare it."

"I've done that," she said. "I've compared and compared." She ticked off the possibilities on her fingers. "English, Psychology and Classics. I could almost qualify for three minors. Zack said maybe the registration advisors would be willing to count three minors the same as one major. You'd think they'd welcome creative ideas, but they just gave me a sour look."

"So what will you do? Flip a coin?"

"I suppose I'll have to." Another sigh. "But there's a bigger problem."

"I thought there might be."

"I'm sick of school."

"No wonder. You've been here too long without knowing why."

"It's more than that. I was sick of school already when I was a third-year sophomore. Professor T, I'm not even sure why I'm in college. I don't know where I'm going in life. I don't know what I want to do."

"Ah. Now the picture is coming into better focus."

"Is it?" she asked. "I'm glad that it's coming into focus for someone. I've taken all those courses in classics, psychology and English, and they're all interesting, but I don't want to be a classicist, a psychologist or an Englishman. I want to marry Zack, but that's a long way off, and in the meantime I'm just hanging. I want to be doing something meaningful, but I don't have anything meaningful to do. I want to finish school, but at the same time I want to get out of school. I want to do God's will, but I'm pulled in a thousand directions." Julie paused. "Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead and get a job slinging coffee at Scardunks."

"Maybe that's not a bad idea."

She looked up. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be cynical."

"Were you being cynical? I wasn't."

"You weren't?"

"Of course not. Students are shoved through college so hard these days that they don't have time to think about what they're doing. It's not a bad idea for any student to take off and work for a year or so. I did."

"You mean, at an internship in my field, or something?"

"Not necessarily. Besides, how could you get an internship in your field when you don't know what your field is?"

"You've got a point there, Prof."

"Perhaps you should consider getting away from school, getting a job and supporting yourself for a while. Not to run away, and not to fritter away the time by partying. To think, to pray and to reflect."

"You're saying I should drop out?"

"That's not what I'm suggesting at all."

"Then explain it to me again."

"Think of it as going on a retreat. I'm not a prophet, Julie. I don't even know whether this is something you ought to do; I've only suggested that you consider it. But my guess is that if you did leave school for a while, you'd return later. When you did return, I think you'd know why."

"That's scary. What if I didn't?"

"Then I hope that you'd know why not."

"I thought a retreat was a spiritual thing."

"Did you think I wasn't speaking of a spiritual thing?"

"But I thought that to go on a retreat you had to go to a monastery or something."

"A retreat is a simply a time of withdrawal from unnecessary activity for the purpose of discerning God's intentions for your life."

"A couple of weeks ago I was talking with my friend Blue. He says you advised him to come back to school."

I shrugged noncommittally. "It all depends on where the unnecessary activity is taking place."

Julie was silent for a few moments, then grinned wryly. "My parents would be pretty upset if I told them I was leaving school for a while. I've always been on the fast track, you know? I got early admission and skipped my last year and a half of high school, I've been on the honor roll every single semester that I've been here, and I'm sort of their golden girl. They haven't got a clue how confused I've been."

"Sometimes parents have a lot more clues than you think. They might surprise you." She looked dubious. I added, "Explain to them what you explained to me."

"Do you think I have to leave school?"

I laughed. "I'm not telling you that you have to do anything."

"Let me say that a different way. I mean, do you think I have to leave school for a while in order to discern God's intentions for my life?"

"No, not necessarily. It's just something to consider. But consider these things too. In the first place, you can't rush God; discernment takes time. Here at the University, you're under pressure to make decisions about your program."

"One of them in 72 hours." She glanced at her watch. "Actually, 68."

"Right. And the decisions you make now in a hurry will have consequences for a long, long time."

"Not to mention," she said, "that my parents are still footing the bill for all these classes I don't know why I'm taking."

"Not to mention," I agreed.

She picked up her backpack. "Well, I'll think it over."

As she was standing up, I said "Julie, before you go, there's one more thing I want you to remember."

She adjusted the weight on her back. "Sure, what is it?"

"It's not a failure to be a little bit confused."

She gave me an odd look. "You don't think so?"

"No, I don't. Relax. Pray. Think things over. Take your time. Give yourself permission to be uncertain for a while."

She gave me a sudden grin. "Okay. Thanks. Bye now."

She vanished out the door, but I heard her footsteps receding down the hall. And I noticed something.

She was walking.

Copyright 2005 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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