September 16, 2010

Focusing on All the Wrong Details

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Whenever someone asks me what I’m doing with my life, I always tense up and say, “I haven’t thought that far ahead yet,” making me seem like a complete bum and total loser. I am a junior psychology major. Usually, when you ask psychology majors what they’re planning on doing with their lives, they answer research, doctor or lawyer. Oh, and human resources. Or living in a box for the rest of your life (that’s me).

When I’m in a small class of psychology majors, I feel like I’m never really on the same page they are — maybe I’m not even reading the same book. Research is interesting, I guess, but I don’t feel like I could dedicate an entire summer doing it. And when I actually talk about the major with other psychology majors, I don’t feel like I care about it the same way they do, and I don’t feel the same passion they do. I don’t read psych articles and journals in my spare time, but I seem to know everything there is to know about movies, directors and actors/actresses from the trusty online community Oh No They Didn’t!.

For a while this summer, I felt like my life was incredibly inadequate — like I hadn’t accomplished anything with my expensive education at Cornell. I knew at this point in my life, I was supposed to be going to school, supposed to be getting good grades and supposed to be making something of my education. But I always wondered what would happen after that. I guess, I go on to grad school, and I guess after that, I get a job. And I guess, after all of that, I’ll get married to someone I’m conveniently dating at the time and settle down into my comfortable life with a white picket fence.

I guess that’s just what you’re supposed to do.

This summer, I didn’t want to get another research position. I was going to take risks! Make my life interesting! So instead, I decided to get an unpaid internship at a small multimedia studio, called the Artists Consortium, located in downtown Los Angeles. I figured, the only thing I loved, besides eating, was film, so I might as well explore my options. I worked mostly on how to do post-production and special effects. So you know all those cool special effects you see in movies, like when random things exploded and turned upside down and crazy in Inception? That’s what I did. Not really — the most I managed to do was make it snow when it wasn’t snowing and make a 2D image look 3D.

When I first went into the studio for an interview, I wore what Cornell taught me to wear to interviews — heels, black skirt, nice shirt and make up. My interviewer came out with a t-shirt, a pair of camo-pants and an air of confidence and nonchalance. His name is Jeff Dean — or should I say, Dr. Jeffrey Dean? He has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from USC and is the founder of the Artists Consortium.

“You’re, like, way overdressed,” he pointed out after the interview.

You would think that someone who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience would be in research or a professor at a university. And Jeff obviously could be doing either of those things. There were books all over the office on psychology and neuroscience. But Jeff was making films and dabbling in the arts, something that thrives on instability and uncertainty.

When I asked him why, he merely shrugged and said simply, “I like neuroscience, but I just didn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life.”

I was impressed. Now I knew that people weren’t lying when they said that you could do anything you wanted, as long as you were willing to take the risk.

Afterwards, he assigned me to edit a trailer for his first full-length movie.

“My entire career as a filmmaker now rests in your hands,” he said, jokingly (or, at least, I hope he was joking).

I had no idea what the movie was about because there wasn’t any sound available. There were a lot of colors, Gary Busey, and Jackson Rathbone (a guy from Twilight). I looked it up on IMDB and read the summary several times.

“What’s the story?” I asked. “Can I at least watch the movie?”

Jeff sighed and shook his head. “You’re focusing on all the wrong details!” he exclaimed.

“But how am I supposed to make a trailer if I don’t know the story?” I said, completely at a loss.

“Focusing on all the wrong details,” he repeated. “People always do that — focus on all the wrong details.”

At the time, I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I meekly went back to my desk and stared at the screen. I ran through the silent film several times and tried to figure out what was going on. If I was focusing on the wrong details, what was I supposed to be focusing on?

But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing all along in my college career — focusing on all the wrong details. I’m a junior now, and I always feel pressured to figure it all out. From career fairs to GREs, it can all feel incredibly overwhelming to impress, to do well and to have everything fall into a certain set of expectations. And we’re so caught up in trying to meet these expectations that we forget the things that used to matter to us. Maybe some of us are so focused on careers, that we forget how to build lasting and genuine friendships. Or maybe others are so focused on finding “the one,” that they can’t see who has been standing in front of them all along.

You don’t know where life is going to take you. If you have a goal, stick to it. But don’t develop tunnel-vision. And if you don’t know what your goals are, put yourself in places where you will find it. There is no use in dwelling on the fact that “you just don’t know.” You could be en route to climbing the corporate ladder but then find your calling in the Peace Corps. You could be dreaming of one thing but end up doing another. Either way, it’s never going to end up the way you envision it.

Sandie Cheng is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected] That One, Please appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Sandie Cheng