Duly Noted: Don’t settle for imperfect fits

When we enter college as freshmen, the four years ahead of us seem to stretch out endlessly. But after the boxes are unpacked and the textbooks are cracked open, we start to realize that four years is not much time at all. There are only a fixed number of days, hours and seconds in our “time banks” and we must economize them wisely. Beginning new experiences is easy; the difficult part is letting things go.

This month, I will be leaving the research laboratory I’ve been working in since freshman year. Though the research is interesting, many different factors indicate that the laboratory is no longer a good fit for my schedule or my interests. The laboratory is at the medical campus, which consumes a 40-minute commute and a round-trip fare each time I go into the lab, twice a week.

Yet bringing myself to leave the laboratory is difficult. During my time in the lab, I got used to the rhythm of the work and developed meaningful relationships with my postdoctoral mentors. I sunk into a comfortable groove – it wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was something. Practically cutting off ties with people I’ve worked with so habitually feels like a huge leap.

This kind of pattern happens all too often, not just in our professional environments, but with our friendships and love lives. Because we’re afraid of changing the status quo, we settle with spending our time on experiences that are merely satisfying rather than invigorating. Maybe we just outgrew what once was a great fit, or maybe we only ever fell into these commitments out of convenience rather than compatibility. Either way, these situations are difficult to escape.

I admit that I’m a hoarder – just ask my mother about my closet of shoeboxes and filing cabinets at home. I can still justify keeping all the bric-a-brac collected over the years (you never know when you’ll need a pair of Groucho Marx glasses). Like my mementos, all of our experiences and commitments are going to hold some sentimental value, but that doesn’t mean we need to hold onto them forever.

Maybe you don’t see your current job taking you anywhere, but your kind coworkers make you reluctant to quit. Maybe you and your boyfriend have nothing in common, but his romantic gestures hold a soft spot in your heart. For me, the brilliant mentors at my lab who taught me so much over these past 13 months made the decision to leave difficult. But part of growing up is learning to see the big picture and realizing that this one experience may only be a brushstroke rather than a focal point in my education.

We cannot afford to settle for too many “convenient” choices. Like the balance of a bank account or the space in my bedroom closet, the time we have is limited. Now that I’m almost halfway done with my four years here, I’ve realized that I need to make room for only the experiences that I am fully passionate about. I will not settle for anything less than friends who make my sides split with laughter and will not pursue a challenging career that doesn’t keep me on my toes every day. I will delve into extracurriculars that are suitable and fulfilling for my interests and I will feel okay leaving a few others by the wayside.

Even if the search is a little inconvenient, it makes the wait more than worth it when you finally find the right fit. Actively searching for something great is so much better than finding yourself stuck somewhere that just doesn’t feel right.

I’ve recently interviewed with a new psychology laboratory here on campus and will start working with them in a few months, studying relationships between emotions and neural connections in the brain. The experience fits better with my schedule and my interests, and it also saves me the commute.

It was difficult at first to admit that something needed to change. But after taking that first step, it’s really a no-brainer.

Jackie Yang is a sophomore majoring in English and neuroscience. Her new column, Duly Noted, runs every first Thursday of each month.