Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 15, 1995

The Way I See It: Getting On With Life

By Lisa Mastny

           "I spent hours staring at the walls of my bedroom. 
               What was I going to do with my life, where 
              would I be in five years, even five months?"

     When I finished my undergraduate classes last December, I
felt like I was balancing on the edge of a chasm.

     All those yearnings to graduate from college, which I had
suppressed in order to get through that final paper and exams,
suddenly burst forth in the form of fears and dread.

     I spent hours staring at the walls of my bedroom.

     What was I going to do with my life, where would I be in
five years, even five months?

     It seemed like everyone else I talked to was so sure about
their futures.  After all, they were at Hopkins, a school
renowned for bringing out the pre-professional in all of us. 
They didn't have to worry.  They were going to law school, to med
school, to The Firm.

     Heck, they had already laid out the next 10 years of their
lives--when to get married, when to have the first kid, when to
buy the snazzy sports car. Just how they knew the minute details
I'm not really sure.  But they all had their master plans.

     And me? I was an international studies major, which, when it
comes to majors, is about the broadest thing around. So what do
you study, people asked? Oh--the world, I'd respond. Nothing

     I took a good dose of just about every department on campus,
not including those engineering and heavy science classes, which
are too detail-oriented for my generalist brain. Plus, I had to
keep my GPA up somehow.

     My philosophy was (and still is), if you don't know what to
learn, then learn a little about a lot. Be well-rounded. Impress
your friends at cocktail parties.

     Just make sure they don't delve too deeply.

     Thus, "the well-rounded" became my sobriquet. Whether I
believed it or not, I had decided that I was the one who was
going to make Hopkins the liberal arts college I had never gone

     And I'm not sure I regret it, regardless of what I plan to
do with the rest of my life.

     I've had countless arguments with friends about whether it's
better to specialize or to generalize, to devote your life to one
thing or to soak up the world. I consistently defended being a
sponge, if only because I have never been anything else.

     And I rather like it. I don't think I've closed any doors I
haven't wanted to. I don't see my college education as a waste.
I'm not one of those people who ask themselves, "Why did I major
in micromanagement of the hive when I'm allergic to bee stings?"

     How can you ever go wrong learning about the world?

     Maybe I'm too idealistic. It's not like I haven't heard that
one before. Your philosophy will change once you reach the big,
scary, REAL world, they say. Then you'll wish you had some REAL

     Real is what you make it, I say--not to sound like Forrest
Gump. If I'm happy with my real, then you go off and be happy
with yours. Just because I'm clueless doesn't mean I don't have a
few things going for me.

     And I'm beginning to think it's precisely my attitude that
will get me where I want to be, whenever I figure that out. I'm
not worried about the rat race.  Money doesn't particularly phase
me. I hate shopping. It doesn't take much to satisfy me.

     I'm one of those people who has trouble relaxing because I'd
rather be doing something worthwhile--which for me has meant
educational. It must be because I grew up on card games like
Authors. ("Lisa, do you have 'Crossing the Bar' by Alfred Lord
Tennyson?" "No, go fish.") My parents' idea of a family outing
was driving through all the Civil War battlefields in
south-central Pennsylvania or going to Shakespeare's 400th
birthday party at the Folger Library in D.C.

     I used to do all the reading for my classes, something I
have discovered few people around here really do. I just never
saw it as a chore. Call me a nerd, but I've learned a lot more
from a good reading assignment than from a lukewarm cup of beer.

     So for me, this semester was my semester off--the time to
cool my burned-out brain from 16.5 years of school. Yet somehow,
I find myself reading more than I ever did.

     Sure, I work 20 hours a week, but that leaves a good chunk
of time to sift through the dusty books on the shelves or to go
to the free concerts I've never had time to go to before. I drive
off to explore unknown territories in the Maryland countryside,
inhaling the fresher air and getting excited when I reach the
border to a new state.

     You're so lucky, you must be living it up, say my
compatriots on their way to classes. Perhaps, but not for long.

     Because it eventually all comes back to the same old
question--what am I going to do with my life.

     Well, I've decided to prolong my decison making for another
two years or so. After graduation I will head to the Czech
Republic to help restore old hiking trails. In the fall, I'm
going to graduate school at Yale--to study nothing less than the

     Now that I think about it, maybe that is getting on with my

     Lisa Mastny, who has been the Gazette's editorial intern
this summer, graduates next week.

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