Jeremy Côté

Control of the Future

It’s tempting as a student to think that nothing is in your control. We often feel like our whole lives revolve around the whims of professors and their decisions for assignments and tests. It can be easy to retreat into “reactive” mode, making sure that everything which is thrown at you gets done. When we operate like this, we tend to be exhausted, since we can never look further than a week.

The issue with living your life like this is that you don’t have control of your future. You’re letting yourself bob down the river of life without any method of steering. For myself, this was unacceptable. I didn’t want to wake up one day and think, “Why didn’t I take control of my life when I had the chance?”

What is it that you want to do? If you’re a student, chances are you have some sort of long term goal. For myself, the goal was to write and teach physics and mathematics. These are topics which I’m interested in, and I enjoy illuminating these subjects for other people. That’s what I’m interested in doing, and being a student is the way I’m going to get there.

Unfortunately, that’s not entirely accurate.

Instead, it’s simply the commonly accepted course of action. Be a student for many years, earn your degree, and then become a teacher. You only move on to teaching once you’ve mastered the “student” part.

This is, simply put, a lie.

What if I just started teaching now? What would happen if I took a leap and decided that there’s no better time than right now to get started? What if, instead of waiting for “permission”, I gave myself permission?

I have a feeling I know what you’re thinking. I can’t teach now, because I don’t have a teaching degree. In essence, I don’t have permission from society to teach, and there’s nothing I can do about it but keep on being a student.

This is a reasonable objection, but it’s not enough. Yes, I wouldn’t be able to walk into a school and have a classroom to teach in. That’s a given, but is there an alternative way to teach? Here, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

For starters, I have this blog in which I write every week. There’s nothing stopping me from teaching what I know on this blog. Wait a second, there is one thing: me. If you don’t see pieces here that teach a certain concept, it’s precisely because I chose not to engage in the work necessary to see it through. Then, it becomes a question of how motivated I am to really teach.

This is why finding clarity as a student is so important. Right now, you’re in the process of learning, but what are you passionate about? What kind of change do you want to see in the world? Once you’ve answered this question, the way forward becomes clear. Each day, you need to take a step in the direction that sees this vision through. If you are really passionate about this idea or this change, then you won’t care if you have permission. Sure, that might mean you won’t get the attention and resources you want, but the key is that you can start. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that. If you want to see a change in the world, chances are you can find something to do to work towards that vision. It’s a matter of looking at the world as a place of opportunity instead of a bunch of obstacles.

This isn’t easy. I know this isn’t easy, particularly if you’re a student who doesn’t know what you want to do with your future. That’s okay. Now’s the time to explore and figure things out. However, once you find that thing, my advice to you is to pursue it with everything you have. I’m not saying to abandon the rest of your life, but don’t hide behind the excuses of not being “ready” for it. The truth is that we can all begin projects with a level of ease that hasn’t been possible in the past. As such, you don’t need permission from anyone else but yourself.

You probably feel like a fraud. You feel like you have no business attempting this idea. I certainly feel like this when I write on my blog. I sometimes think, “Why am I trying to explain this idea when others have done it before I?” I always come to the same answer: if this is important to me, it deserves my attention. I don’t need anyone else blessing it or giving me a platform to start. If I’m as energized by this idea as I tell myself, the other parts don’t matter. What’s important is to start.

As students, we tend to see ourselves as people who aren’t very knowledgable. We’re surrounded by professors and researchers who have years of experience and knowledge that we don’t have. This creates an asymmetrical power dynamic that can be difficult to shake. However, if you have an idea of something that you want to do in the world and you’re hesitating because you’re “just a student”, please listen to my words here. Your work deserves to be out in the world. You might not feel ready, but the truth is that no one feels ready at first. The cure is to begin, and to show up day after day.

We have two options: we can let ourselves float along with the current, or we can take a stand and do our best to steer. The latter is difficult, it’s scary, but it must be done. If you’re putting work off that you want to do because you don’t feel ready, take a hard look at the underlying reason for this hesitation. If you’re really not ready, are you taking steps each day to become ready? I’m not talking about being a workaholic, but about taking charge of your ideas.

Yes, you’re a student, and you have a lot more to learn. That doesn’t mean you can’t start now. In fact, I would argue that not starting now is a waste. For myself, I want to write and teach, so I’m taking steps to do both. Even if I’m not successful every day, I’m committed to doing it. I don’t have a big platform (in fact, it’s almost non-existent), but I’m starting with what I can.

Being “just a student” isn’t a good enough excuse anymore.