Columns, Opinions

Saanya Jain: Making choices, taking chances

Guest Columnist
Friday, May 24, 2019

I have spent this semester counting my lasts — granola bowls, John Street basement concerts, all-nighters in the Rock. At each occasion of arithmetical gymnastics, one question inevitably arose: Would I do it all again the same way?

Each time, I would think back to a memory from my senior year of high school. My family sat around the kitchen table, the afternoon light streaming in on a warm Tunisian day, as my parents and I debated, yet again, where I should go to college. My mother insisted on one school and I, naturally, vehemently disagreed. After tears (mostly mine) and slammed doors (all by me), I sat on the staircase, fuming. But I was close enough to hear my father tell my mother: “I want her to make her own choice; then there’s no reason to regret it.”

Up to that point, my life had been defined by serendipity. Whenever anyone asked why I had grown up halfway across the world from where I had been born, I didn’t quite know what to say: some combination of a chance job application, a missed email, a delayed flight and a civil war. These events had brought me to that moment, living in a country my grandparents couldn’t identify on a map, arguing about schools no one in my family had ever been to.

When I decided to come to Brown, all of that changed. Here, every aspect of my experience — from who my friends were to why I was awake at 4 a.m. — was my choice. Being solely responsible for mistakes and my successes alike, however, was easier said than done. Every shopping period, I hashed through a multi-sheet, color-coded Excel document with dozens of courses. Each time, I was paralyzed with indecision, wondering if I would be happier filming a short movie or playing around in virtual reality instead.

Perhaps this was why I was attracted to economics, the study of how we make trade-offs given scarce resources. Optimization was straightforward enough in my microeconomics problem sets, where costs and utility were given to me as algebraic expressions. But there are no givens when I had to optimize for my most scarce resource on this campus: time.

Each semester, I got a little better at it. That class that everyone said I had to take? I eventually gathered the courage to drop it. My existential crisis when a philosophy concentrator dropped a theory course at the last minute because it was too theoretical? Turned out to be my favorite one of the year. From seeing my first article in print to jumping onstage in front of five hundred people, I learned to have a little more faith in my ability to make choices that were right for me.

Thus it was through my many missteps (and the occasional right one) that I began to realize that the true value of my Brown experience was not the classes I took or learning how to survive on instant ramen for days on end. It was the privilege and responsibility of charting my own path every day by defining passion, impact and success for myself.

When I called my father as I stepped out of my last class at Brown, almost exactly four years to the day that we sat around my kitchen table, I asked him what I would do now. It would be easy to no longer take chances without shopping period or S/NCs. It would be tempting to scapegoat “real-world” exigencies and have less ownership over my choices.

My father paused in his characteristic manner. Just as I began to wonder if the spotty internet connection had given out yet again, he remarked, “Whatever happens, I have faith, because I know you’ll continue to make your own rules instead of play by someone else’s.”

I knew then I had my answer: No, I wouldn’t do it differently. I hope I’ll be able to say the same about life after Brown as well.

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