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The young and the desperate: Does life have to be mundane and average?

  1. Dec 28, 2008 #1
    I used to always wondered why people in my age group were hopelessly passionate and seemed to fall into the stereotype of 'young and restless dreamers' until a few years ago.

    As I go on in college, I, as well as many other people my age, have to make more and more choices and seriously consider what our lives will be like in five, ten, fifteen years instead of going along the common track that most people follow before they graduate high school. I don't know how much sympathy I'll find in this forum but I thought I'd try since a great deal of you are older and wiser and have been in my position before, perhaps.

    I always used to hear stories about how people walked off into the sunset with their new college degrees and grand ideas of how they would make a difference or lead the sort of lives they always wanted to, only to later turn into a dissatisfied, bitter person with a boring job and lackluster personal relationships. It seems far more common than one would think and even though it's perhaps selfish of me I don't want an 'okay' life. I want a full life, an exciting and meaningful one that is lived the way I want to, not one that I will eventually come to accept as inevitable. I've tried talking to people about this but the result seems to be depressing and they usually tell me that I'll marry a nice, sensible man and have a nice, sensible career and learn to be happy with the sort of life 'everyone else' has, regardless of how I feel now.

    It's the same routine, over and over again at this point in my life. I know that I need to work to get good grades and to be proficient in my area, even if it may seem boring now. I don't mind the work as long as the end is worth it. I know that opportunities won't find me by themselves and that to be happy you need to seize it for yourself, but it's difficult to do this sort of thing when everyone around you is resigned and has no aspirations beyond maybe not failing that chemistry exam and getting a stable, albeit boring career.

    Ugh, now I know why so many decent young adults turn into stark raving Randians or cynics within the space of a few years. I'm asking for advice; is there any advice I can solicit? I can't live this way for the rest of my life and it feels like there is no one around who can help beyond the usual "there, there. You'll grow out of it" assertions.

    And any whiny or condescending overtones in this post are completely unintentional. I realize that in voicing this concern, I have fallen into the 'young and restless' stereotype myself but any advice from people older and more experienced than myself is worth the derision.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2008 #2
    As a person who is probably in the same age group as you are in, I can only provide what I am best in - a logical approach to the solution.

    You want a non-office job, not repetitive, in a beautiful place, with lots of possibilities to travel, with an actual meaning to what you do, free schedule, keep a positive outlook on life as you get older, and etc.

    Even though you didn't exactly specify what is it that you want to do, but I'd say being a scientist and/or a university professor (only if you don't get loaded with paperwork) might be best for you. Just my opinion though. Maybe if you said what is it that you want to do, and what are your best interests, and what do you mean by "living life to the fullest", people here could help you more.
  4. Dec 29, 2008 #3
    If your life loses excitement, add some to it. I'm in the same age group as you are (I'm 19), but I won't let myself have an OK life. Meet a lot of new people and do stuff outside of the norm.

    I would be terrified if at some point in my life I fell into a routine.
  5. Dec 29, 2008 #4

    Math Is Hard

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    If you haven't done so, I highly recommend you watch Randy Pausch's last lecture.

    Listen to what he says about achieving your childhood dreams.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  6. Dec 29, 2008 #5
    YES!!!!!!!!! I meant to include this video. Every single time that something seems difficult, in my head I hear him talk about what brick walls are for.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  7. Dec 29, 2008 #6

    Math Is Hard

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    I think that's my favorite part.
  8. Dec 29, 2008 #7
    Is he (by chance) the Prof the was diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote a book? (Maybe I'm pullin this out of where the sun don't shine, and or mixing it with other memories, I don't know)
  9. Dec 29, 2008 #8
    He's the guy. My mom got me his book for Christmas.
  10. Dec 29, 2008 #9
    That's what life is... there really aren't a lot of ways around it. You'll wake up, you'll go to work, you'll come home, you'll do things to keep yourself occupied, you'll go to bed. Then you'll do it again. Every once in a while you might go on vacation and once you've been on vacation for a week you'll probably start to yearn for your boring routine.

    I'm only 21 but from what I've seen so far I'm thinking that this is where my life is going. Trouble is that I start to freak out without a little stability... I need my steady paycheck and knowing that things are going to be OK tomorrow. I hate thinking that way, though... I'd much rather be one of these people that does everything on a whim and ends up EVERYWHERE doing EVERYTHING by the time it's all over.

    Most people find a routine they're happy with when they find a member of the opposite sex to fall in love with. That's why so many people are just OK with settling down... once you're in love you're not looking for that next step anymore. A lot of people don't really care what they do and are happy to float through life going through the motions.

    The truth is, though... that you can do ANYTHING you want. ANYTHING. If you were so inclined you could move to africa and live among the apes... or you could join the military or become a mercenary and fight wars in exciting and exotic places. I personally believe thought, that no matter what solution you come up with... it's never going to be as dramatic and amazing as you envisioned. Were you a celebrity living in Beverly Hills you'd soon come to realize that you're still you and you're still not living in a movie. Drama is just life with the boring parts cut out, and most of life IS the boring parts regardless of what you're doing. I think this is where the "dreamers" word comes in.
  11. Dec 29, 2008 #10
    Take your chances. Im not older, nor am I wiser, I think Im in the same boat as you are (Im 20), but I think the only way not to have regrets later on is to take your chances and see where they lead you. Where ever you go, youll have gotten there by yourself and not by someone elses' incessant prodding. That I think is a destination worth reaching. At least that way, you cant ever blame anyone else for the turns your life has taken, and if you've tried, at the end of it you can say, 'If I were to do it again, that how Id do it'.

    Even if you **** up, its ok, who has all the answers? And all answers are subjective in any case, only the ones you come up with (with respect to life, the universe etc.) have any meaning, and anything else, is just someone else's take on something you may or may not have experienced yet. When you do come across the same situation, chances are that you might react in a completely different way, and hence their observations are moot, because they are not yours.

    Because we are dealing with individual perspectives and responses, nobody's answer is going to be exactly right for you. So you might as well find your own. There are people who have come up with ideas and points of view that I agree with on certain topics, but dont agree with on others, Ive learned to take what I can when I find it useful, irrespective of the source and make use of it.
  12. Dec 29, 2008 #11
    Yeah, I'm 19 and I hear all this stuff. Like, oh what are you going to do with that degree (physics and math) in these uncertain times, blah blah blah. University's no good unless you're in commerce or medicine (possibly engineering), etc. You're better off being a tradesman, at least they make good money. The usual.

    Now you see, I don't want to be doing a trade, despite the promised money. It's also not a long term proposition (I live in British Columbia, and for example, if you work in the lumber industry, and the nearby lumber mill closes down, you are screwed). An education, that's something no one can take away from you. Yet I still don't want to do commerce - doesn't interest me at all - and a routine of something I hate would be worse than something I'm indifferent about. (Engineering would be fine though).

    The prospect of doing research appeals to me a lot - that would be my goal, and I will do my best to reach it. If not, I could probably end up in a computer job - perhaps the routine stuff you're thinking of. Still, it is much, much better than other career paths out there.

    The way I see it is to do your best to do what you want - but don't close too many doors doing it, in case you don't succeed. If nothing else, at least you tried to evade "the routine." Those bitter people, they most likely didn't try hard enough/want it enough - or didn't plan ahead and had to settle for a job at Safeway full time.

    So go get your college degree, and remind yourself that you will still be better off than many, many people who don't "dream" and aren't as talented as yourself.
  13. Dec 29, 2008 #12
    Interesting very first post on this forum. It sounds like your just bored with life and don't really know what you want out of it. Try traveling, meeting new friends, new job, etc.

    No one ever said you have to follow the traditional "american dream", but you will be judged for it.
  14. Dec 29, 2008 #13
    You can always go out and get a good job that you might like more and be more social. I'm not trying to say that you are not social or are boring, but you can find things to do, to switch up the routine things in your life. Granted I don't know too much myself, I think, like most of the others seem to be saying, I'm probably in the same age group as you. I like to find things to do to make my job fun, and it always helps that we like to sometimes goof off, but we get things done and on time, plus we do know when it's best to be serous and productive. :biggrin:

    I love college and work both, I have too much fun at both of them. :biggrin: It's always fun to have a little goofing off at both and to be able to, and everyone joins in, it makes life fun too. :smile:
  15. Dec 29, 2008 #14


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    I think the problem with starting out in college is that the path toward the future is not too clear, and a routine can sometimes boringly mundane. Without experience, opportunity does not come looking for one. As one gains experience and establishes oneself in the field, e.g. physics, then opportunities start finding one.

    Learning to deal with the mundane is important. Part of life will be routine or mundane. There are different ways to deal with it so it doesn't drag one down. One could ignore it or shrug it off, one could learn to find some sasifaction in it, or one could use the time to think about things, or some combination thereof.

    One way to avoid getting trap is to develop a set of goals, such that one's academic path, including advanced degrees, and one's research will move one toward those goals. I had a roommate in grad school who had some kind of plan with goal/achievements every decade, and in some intermediate time points. It worked for him, but that would not work for me.

    I moved from physics to nuclear engineering, and went on to graduate degrees. I got married at the end of my undergraduate program. Even then, I wasn't sure where I would end up professionally.

    One thing I did during my undergrad and graduate programs was read up on research and take courses in other areas, e.g. mechanical engineering, materials science, and aerospace engineering. I found the multi-discipline approach gave me different perspectives and provided ideas that we different from a program that was strictly nuclear engineering. I used to browse journals and texts from a variety of engineering discplines. One my specialties was rather obscure journals and texts on a variety of materials. Fellow grads and professors would come to me for information on materials. My experience demonstrated the importance of diversity in one's discipline. I still do this by participating in a number of scientific and technical societies related to materials, aerospace and nuclear engineering.

    With respect to relationships, one shouldn't feel like one has to get married to a particular type of 'sensible' man. Instead, establish relationships with people who share similar values and a sense of purpose about life. When developing a relationship with a potential spouse, make sure his goals and compatible with one's goals, i.e. make sure careers are compatible and there is mutual support.
  16. Dec 30, 2008 #15
    How you feel at this time is quite normal. In fact, I remember having similar thoughts many years ago.

    There are obviously some excellent posts here in answer to your questions. Although I will do my best to add something of value, don’t be surprised if some of it sound like repeats of what was already posted.

    With that being said, here are some of the lessons that I have learned on my long journey from living in poverty on a farm in a third world country to becoming a pilot for a major international airline:

    1. Make sure that your goals, dreams, and aspirations are actually yours (and not someone else’s).

    2. Once the above is confirmed, never lose sight of these goals etc.

    3. Take action towards getting them (which you seem to be doing).

    4. Expect frustration and setbacks.

    5. Persevere in spite of these setbacks.

    6. Remember that if you do work that others will never do, you are likely to have privileges that others will never have.

    As someone said, many successful people had to work through a lot of C.R.A.P. That stands for Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Pressure.
  17. Dec 30, 2008 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Part of the problem is that dreams usually involve risk. I think it is important to follow your dreams, but one also has to be smart about recognizing what's possible and what's not. And while I'm the first one to cheer for over-reaching, the real potential for failure is something to be taken very seriously. Contrary to idealistic, youthful notions, not all things are possible. And failure can be quite painful.

    I think people get cynical for at least three reasons: Some, because they reached for the brass ring, fell off of their horse, and never got up. For some, their expectations were unrealistic. They got what they wanted but still aren't happy. For others, the cynicism results from having never reached for the ring at all.

    My wife and I have taken a number of very big risks over the course of our lives. Most worked out well and a few didn't. When things didn't go well, it hurt! But I can say this: Everytime we get to feeling like our lives really suck, we stop and ask ourselves what sort of life we would have preferred, and we always end up right back where we are. As much as she hates it at times, my wife has always loved caring for the sick and injured. And while my self-employment carries many concerns and stressors that employees never give a second thought [like getting sued], I can barely imagine losing the freedom that I enjoy, or the variety of experiences that I've had. Also, we have a 5 acre plot of land in rural Oregon that we both love [one of the big risks mentioned], but it can be a huge liability as well. The work and costs can be overwhelming at times. And I'm sure you can imagine that rural Oregon isn't the best place to market a physics degree!

    So we pretty much got the lives that we wanted. And in many ways, it is a life that I never would have dreamed possible, but the price for that has been quite high at times. Are we happy? It depends on what day you ask. :biggrin:

    Btw. I walked away from an established career in order to return to school and get a physics degree. I have no regrets.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2008
  18. Dec 30, 2008 #17
    Wow. Best post in this thread... that was really insightful.

    Edit: Sorry for the weird spammish post but I thought you put it really well (being 21, this whole issue is a big factor in my own life as well) and I just felt like I should tell you :tongue: .
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 30, 2008
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