January 30, 2018

AHMAD | Ambition Kills Passion

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I peaked when I was 10 years old.

I know that sounds ridiculous. And whenever I mention it out loud to someone — my friends, parents, professors — they roll their eyes and laugh it off. To be quite honest, I don’t blame them. How many times have we heard this clichéd story before? A straight-A student who has always been at the top of their class goes off to an Ivy League, quickly realizes that things are much tougher when they’re a little fish in a big pond, and ends up developing an inferiority complex and wailing “I PEAKED WHEN I WAS 10!”. A classic tale. Boohoo.

But that’s not what I mean when I say that I peaked at 10 years old. I don’t think my life is all downhill from here, and I don’t doubt that I’ll have achievements in the future that I’m proud of. This is a different kind of “peak” that I’m referring to.

When I was 10 years old, I used to adore writing. I started keeping journals when I was as young as 7, and I would write short stories, poems, prose — the whole shebang. I would tell anyone who would listen that one day I’d become a journalist, or at least an author. I couldn’t wait to go to college, where I would undoubtedly major in Creative Writing, or Comparative Literature — or maybe, if I played my cards right, I could do both! For my entire childhood, that was what I genuinely believed. So how did I end up here: a premed student majoring in psychology with nothing but a measly minor in English?

I don’t believe that this is an isolated incident, or that I am alone in this experience. I have friends that I’ve known since elementary and middle school who, when we were kids, used to love dance, or were phenomenal artists, or spent all their time playing music. But now, when I ask them why they don’t do those things anymore, their answers are always “I don’t know, I just… stopped.”

They just stopped.

But, why? You don’t “just stop” doing something you love doing, and you especially don’t “just stop” doing something you’re good at doing.

For the longest time, I blamed myself for not keeping up with writing. I regretted how my writing dwindled down to just a few sporadic journal entries every few weeks once I entered high school. I went into a fit of rage when my mom reminded me that my fourth grade teacher had once said I had a lot of potential as an author. Mostly, though, I hated myself for not continuing the one thing that I was really passionate about.

However, when I began talking to my friends and found out that they too had a long-abandoned passion that they wished they had continued, I realized that maybe this wasn’t completely my fault..

You see, when I was 10 years old, I didn’t know that there was a such thing as a “pointless career.”  I had no concept of a “useless degree” or a job that “wasn’t real”. I thought that you just had to find something you liked doing, get a job in it and go about your life. Simple!

Only, it wasn’t.

Now, it’s not unheard of that many students are relentlessly pushed towards STEM fields, both by society and by our parents (I fall into that category, as I’m sure many do). But, I think what we don’t realize is how much we sacrifice along the way.

As you grow up, you gain responsibilities. You have less free time and more stress. You’re told to focus on your future. What do you want to do with your life? What field do you want to go into? You need to start planning! You need to have a goal! Figure it out! You’re introduced to the idea of having a substantial career. Then, you are told what does and what does not qualify as a substantial career. You are conditioned to get on a one-track path to success. No ifs, ands or buts. And while you can argue that this mindset may have been what got many of us to Cornell in the first place, I think that somewhere along the line we lost the passion we once had.

When you are told that your childhood hobbies cannot become your lifetime job, you start to see them as a waste of time. They become a guilty pleasure that you might get to indulge in every once in a while, but only if you have everything else figured out. Any time you pick up your guitar to strum or your pencil to draw, you start to think about the more productive things you could be doing instead. And that takes the fun out of it. It’s no wonder so many of us end up abandoning our passions.

So, when I say I peaked at 10 years old, I don’t mean that I was at my smartest, or my most successful, or my most determined. But I do believe that I was at my most passionate.


Faiza Ahmad is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Fifth Column runs alternate Wednesdays this semester.