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Authentic Eagles: Jillian Timko On Academics

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Jillian Timko, A&S ’14

Throughout my life, everyone—parents, family members, friends—always told me to follow my passion. However, no one could ever tell me how to figure out what I was passionate about. Coming into Boston College, I had no inkling of an idea about what I wanted to do with my life. I was undecided on a major, and I wasn’t even entirely sure that BC was the right place for me. Throughout all my college visits, I had been waiting for the big, light bulb “Aha!” moment that people always talked about, when you stepped onto a gorgeous college campus and realized it was where you belonged. But it never happened. I confessed this concern to my mom somewhere in the middle of senior year, worried that out of the twelve schools I applied to none of them were the right one. My mom told me that she didn’t think I was the type of person who would have big, dramatic “Aha!” moments, and that that was okay, that I could make a good decision in other ways. I was relieved, but I was still so insecure about deciding where to go to college that I ended up flipping a coin.

While the coin flip landed in my favor and I quickly found a new home in Duchesne West freshman year, my academic life continued without any “Aha!” moments. I took a few low-level economics classes freshman year, and by the end of the year I decided to move forward with a double major in economics and international studies, pending my acceptance to the international studies program. Internally, I was not confident in this decision; I had no idea what the international studies program would be like, and I had not been thrilled by any of my economics classes freshman year. But for the first time I felt like I had a plan. I was going to graduate with a double major, which was impressive in itself, and one of those majors would be economics, a challenging subject that demonstrated I had analytical skills. I would be able to get a job upon graduation, and it felt good to have a plan, to be able to confidently answer questions about my major when family members and friends asked.

I entered sophomore year optimistic, despite my insecurities about this plan. Half of that optimism was well placed; I fell in love with my international studies classes, even the brutal Intro to International Studies class at 9 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I loved learning about different places, I loved how my classes challenged my beliefs about the world, I loved the ethical dimension to all of the global issues that we discussed. But I did not love economics. I had hoped that delving deeper into the major would make it more interesting; instead, I found myself bored, frustrated and completely unmotivated in every economics class I took sophomore year.

But I was very unwilling to let go of the perfect life plan I had created for myself. I told myself I just didn’t enjoy economics because it was hard, which wasn’t a good reason to quit, and when that didn’t work I tried to motivate myself by saying I wouldn’t be able to get a good job without an economics major. It might seem silly that I was so concerned about getting a job after graduation as a sophomore, but after watching both of my parents work so hard for all of my life to have amazing careers, I felt both inspired and obligated to follow in their footsteps. I hated the idea that I might waste all of their effort by going to an expensive college only to be unemployed afterwards because of the major I had chosen.

I was unhappy and stressed, spending hours before every class registration period trying to find an economics class I might actually like. But what finally made me give up economics was my passion for international studies; I became concerned that the double major was going to leave little flexibility to take all the international studies classes that I wanted. There wasn’t really one watershed moment where I decided to drop my major down to a minor—I actually only just formally made that adjustment this past semester. But when it came down to switching out international studies classes that I wanted to take for economics classes that I didn’t, I knew I couldn’t go through with it. I kept my schedule free of economics classes for my semester abroad, letting go of my perfect life plan but also letting go of something that had been a constant source of unhappiness to me.

For senior year, I loaded my schedule with classes about human rights, ethics and international law, topics that I had developed an interest in from my more general international studies classes. These classes made me think deeply to answer tough questions, and I soaked in the information like sponge. I had found my passion, not in one big “Aha!” moment but through many small moments of wonder and enthusiasm. That is my passion—it's not dramatic, or abruptly transformative. It’s the thing I am motivated by for its own sake, the thing that I want to do well by, the thing that makes me think hard and ask questions and even sometimes keeps me up at night. It’s something I love without needing to articulate why, because it’s so right for me I don’t have to explain it to myself. And its something I now trust to lead me in the right direction; I no longer need a perfect life plan to be secure about my future.

But that is just my passion. And that’s another complicating but fascinating thing about passion—it’s different for everyone, and everyone experiences it differently. We’re supposed to dedicate our lives to it, but there’s no foolproof, five-step plan to discover it. If you are an “Aha!” moment kind of person, then look for those moments, because they will guide you towards your passion. If you love economics like I love international studies, then props—the world needs people like you. And if you know what your passion is but don’t know how it equates to a real world job, then join the club. We should follow our passions, but we don’t necessarily have to have the “how” part figured out right now—many of us just spent the past four years trying to figure out exactly what our passions are. The working world is very different from the academic world, and it’s going to take time and hard work to discover not just the subject area but the job title we are passionate about.

And there are ways to follow your passion while still finding employment; I was able to find an amazing job, despite all my concerns about my lack of economics major. Furthermore, its a job that will set me up well as a law school applicant, if I decide that that’s the best way to pursue my passion. But for now, I’m going to have confidence that if I know and remember what I am passionate about, the “how” part of the equation will eventually, slowly, in small moments of wonder and enthusiasm, fall into place.

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