1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Don't know what I want to do having a major life crisis

  1. Aug 11, 2013 #1
    Where do I begin. The past two years at my uni have been disappointingly bleak and uneventful. Since my freshman year I have been dabbling in courses ranging from pure math, electrical engineering, physics, and I still have no idea what the h*ll I want to do. For a while now, I have thought that my problem is that I'm very lazy and have no motivation to seriously commit myself to anything. My parents have always told me that it's because "I have no passion." Since high school, I have been interested in physics and advanced math, and knew I wanted to do something in the field. At that time I thought things would have turned out much differently: I thought that by now I would have been doing significant research in a field I was successful in. I often read about notable scientists to find inspiration, but I see the extraordinary things many of them have accomplished by my age (20), and it makes me feel absolutely worthless. I feel too old to do anything, and literally feel like my life is over at this point. This feeling has become so overwhelming, that over the past few months I have been suffering from severe panic attacks over it. What should I do at this point?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 11, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Hey tbg299 and welcome to the forums.

    The first thing I recommend you do is to sit down for a minute and think what is important to you - i.e. what do you really value and why.

    The second thing I recommend you do is to ask yourself what success means and what you think a successful person is.

    Thirdly I recommend you realize that you ask whether the above are based on what you have been told and drilled into your head from your parents, teachers, friend, class-mates and other associates or whether its something from inside of you.

    If you do the above, you will hopefully see the source of your panic and feelings of worthlessness and that is the first step: you have to understand where they come from and accept the source and the reasons for it.

    Also realize that a large part of "passion" is being "passive". In other words, it's not about enjoying something all the time and getting a buzz out of it every day - it's about doing something day in day out without always expecting some kind of discovery or gratification of any kind.

    Being passive means to have a kind of robot-like quality where you get things done even if they aren't always the things that yield spontaneity, surprise/excitement, or any kind of instant payoff.

    The final thing I want to leave with you is to think about the fear of failure. We all fear failure in some capacity and we ultimately fear being intimidated by others that seem to us to never have failed and never will fail.

    Failure is necessary to develop and become apt in whatever field you go into. Athletes break bones, students don't get perfect marks, and people make mistakes. If you are afraid to fail, then you will miss out on what makes someone good at what they do and an appreciation of the struggle to get there.

    Hopefully the above should give you some things to think about.
  4. Aug 11, 2013 #3
    Wise words, chiro. I'd like to echo the part about passion, where chiro said:

    If someone is passionate about something, it does not necessarily mean that they're fired up about it ALL THE TIME. We can't handle being fired up every second of every day. It's just that the subject they enjoy excites them more than other subjects do, so it is a comparative thing. Pursuing something everyday takes discipline, the passion for the subject definitely helps, but ultimately it takes discipline.

    I understand feeling like a loser when comparing yourself to others. I'm 26 and have two years left to finish my undergrad. There are 19 and 20 year olds in my math department that blow my math skills away. But these are people to learn from, everyone you encounter in school (in life, for that matter) can teach you something.

    These types of people should drive you to be better, not cause you to stop dead in your tracks and give up. The thing about comparing ourselves to others is that we will always come up short. There will always be someone better, smarter, quicker at calculations, more successful at a younger age, etc. It is just something we have to get used to in this arena, we are always going to run into somebody smarter. And that is not a bad thing.

    I think that you should look at the classes you've taken, compare each one to the others, and decide of those classes which you preferred. Then just pick a path and take it as far as you can. Dream big, but don't quit if things don't work out exactly as you wanted, it is just a detour.
  5. Aug 11, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I don't like the way our culture assumes everyone has "a passion" they must find and follow, and that if they do everything will simply work out. Truth is, not everyone has this passion thing. Some of us are more well-rounded: we like a bit of everything, and are too reasonable to blindly follow any old path into come what may.

    Stop comparing yourself to people who fall over six sigmas from the rest of us. Most successful people have to work damn hard for what they have.

    Could your panic attacks be caused by having insecurity about your future?
  6. Aug 12, 2013 #5
    If you've been having these problems for that long, and if they have been so seriously affecting your life, then I strongly suggest that you consider seeing a therapist. No amount of reasonable advice, though useful, is a substitute for professional help. Your problem is your state of mind itself, not that you're "too old to do anything", "too lazy" or that you have no "passion".
  7. Aug 12, 2013 #6
    I think chiro's words of wisdom are priceless. You have to take time out and think about what success and happiness mean to you. Sometimes these have been defined so consistently and repeatedly from our youth that we can't imagine that any other definitions or avenues to them might exist and that inner voice gets drowned out. Try to find time to sit in a peaceful place and reconnect with yourself in a compassionate, self-accepting, and positive way. Life is a lot more about the way you do what you do, the meaning it gives to you, the purpose with which you do it, and the impact it has on the people around you. You don't have to be the best in the world at what you do but you have to strive to be the best that you can be at what you do. We need all types of people in math and physics. Some people will do theoretical research or be into pure math, others will be bored and not engaged by that and need to do something more applied. Some will like to gaze at the stars and others enjoy the microscope. It is indeed a beautiful and fascinating universe that we live in and you have to find your place within it. When I think about an individual who taught high school physics his or her whole life, with sincerity, passion, and commitment and retires after 40 or so years, I am humbled and inspired by such a person and deem his gift to science and humanity at large no less than that of a professor or a Nobel Prize winner. As long as we are locked into a worldview which assigns value to one's life based on what society deems worthy, we will be running around for that sense of significance and accomplishment from others for the rest of our lives. We have to learn to give that sense of significance and acceptance to ourselves.

    I want to add that it is a wonderful thing that you did, reaching out to us on PhysicsForum for guidance and support. Please do continue to do that. There are many things in life that we can get through simply by talking about it with others. However, there are some things that require more help than friends or family can provide and in these situations it is best to seek out the help of a trained counselor. Most schools have them available for students who are going through difficulties. You may benefit from finding a mentor or a counselor in your area that you trust, that you can really open up with about what's going on in your life and I hope that with the compassion and acceptance in their heart you will grow in compassion and acceptance in your own heart and begin to grow in a positive way through this. Sometimes we get caught in a spiral of negative or self-defeating thinking and we feel that life can be very daunting or there is little to look forward to but when we talk things through with others we begin to gain a healthier perspective on life, on ourselves, how many blessings and opportunities we have in life, set healthier long term and short term goals, and start living in a fuller and healthier way.

    If you need help finding someone to talk to, I'd suggest that you start by looking if your school has a counseling and wellness center. Reaching out to us is a good first step and I hope that this next step will be even easier now. Feel free to message me if you need any advice or guidance.

    All the best,
    Junaid Mansuri
  8. Aug 12, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    First of all, you're 20. About the only thing you're too old for is a Happy Meal.

    Second, remember that everyone else has had different initial conditions than you.

    Historically, yes, there are many scientists who have done great things early in life, but comparing yourself to them isn't going to accomplish much because they were working under a different set of circumstances. Maybe check out a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" to get some perspective on this. In it he looks at people like John Lennon and Bill Gates and argues how the conditions that came together for them were critical to their overwhelming successes and why some people who we might think should be successful have not been.

    Third, and perhaps most important, if you really want to be doing research the trick is to do research. If all you can manage at this point is volunteering in a lab over the summer, then do that. If you can get involved with some sort of competative student engineering team, do that. Read a lot. Take time to learn about the things you're really interested in, not just those that are assigned to you in class. I know this is hard, but if you're not doing at least some independent learning, it's very easy to burn out.l
  9. Aug 13, 2013 #8
    I'm almost 24 and am in my second year of a physics/maths degree. And I'm not the oldest student in the class (by a long shot!). Trust me when I say that your life isn't over.
  10. Aug 14, 2013 #9
    Let me start by saying I am 35 years old and just started pursuing my physics degree last year. I will be in my 40s by the time I finish my doctorate. So, you will have to excuse me if hearing a 20 year old say they are too old made me roll my eyes. You are still a kid, which is great. You have plenty of time, so no worries there.

    Now, moving onto your comment about what others have accomplished by your age. I'm going to go ahead and pull away the curtain to show you what is behind most of those child prodigy stories. In most cases, the parents have their masters or doctorates, started the projects for their children themselves (or in some cases, did almost the entire project FOR them), and allowed their child to get the credit for scholarships, recognition, etc. Go ahead and look into the families behind those stories yourself. You will find this to often be the case.

    In addition, when someone has accomplished something newsworthy, the media loves to embellish. Take me for example. Sure, I have studied the sciences off and on since I was a kid, but I never did anything spectacular in regards to any experiments, discoveries, etc. However, if I wanted to divulge my past to make myself more appealing to the press, I have plenty of stories to tell. I experimented with household chemicals frequently, inadvertently creating chemical bombs, toxic fumes that filled my entire house (and friends houses at times). I created various pyrotechnics, multiple versions of napalm, and experimented with many other exothermic reactions as well. I took apart just about every electronic device I had as a child, just to see how they worked. Now, giving information like this to the media, a good writer could easily turn this into an amazing story of a child prodigy who turned his household and the households of his childhood friends into his own personal laboratories. The fact is, it is all a matter of perspective and how you tell the story.

    Yes, there are a very select few who accomplish amazing things without an adult doing most of the work for them. However, they are few and far between. In addition, there are more of those child prodigies who end up fading out of the spotlight later on in life than those who you hear about in the decades to come. On the other hand, there are some individuals who accomplished very little in their earlier years who end up accomplishing amazing things later on in life.

    As far as the panic attacks, it seems to me like you are just stressing yourself out way too much over all of this. You need to take a step back and breathe. Figure out what you need to do in order to figure things out. Stop trying to push through college courses to do so and start trying to figure yourself out. Maybe try some personality or career tests to help refine what your strengths and interests are. Look into some specific professions, maybe volunteer at some facilities that have the professions you are considering. Take some time to see the fields firsthand. If you need to take some time off from college in order to do so, finding yourself will be far more beneficial than just trying to plow through courses in hopes that you will figure it out that way.

    You are still so young. You have plenty of time to find yourself. More often than not, the most brilliant minds have a hard time figuring out what to do with themselves because it is hard to keep their attention. They learn fast, then move onto the next interest. Someone who is brilliant and knows exactly what they want to do as a child is an exceptionally rare find, and in no way guarantees that they will do any better than someone who figures it out later in life.

    I wish you luck and hope you find what you are looking for soon. Just remember, you are doing this for you. Not your parents, not your teachers, but for you.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Don't know what I want to do having a major life crisis