I returned to school from vacation a little over a week ago feeling loose, happy, and ready to conquer my New Year’s resolutions. I felt whole, centered, and vibrant with the knowledge that I had the opportunity to spend my time working on creative endeavors like writing and upgrading my website (I only have one class this quarter). For me, time with family has a very rejuvenating, restorative quality and I came away from my break feeling like I had all of the time in the world to pursue my passions.

That is, until Monday night.

Monday night was when I realized that the career fair was the next day and I spent a few miserable hours looking through the career fair guide, wondering what consulting was and if I was being foolish for not pursuing it like the thousand of others playing-at-professional who I would encounter the next day. Tuesday and Wednesday were both spent dressing up in a way that felt as though I was pretending at some abhorrent form of adulthood that I wanted nothing to do with—my single blazer paired with the semi-wrinkled dress pants that I really shouldn’t have shoved into the back of my drawer after the last career fair. I walked around, accidentally spoke to a consultant (then quickly felt the need to tell him that I wasn’t “consulting material”), and spoke to maybe one or two employers who I was peripherally interested in, but I mostly looked around while feeling confused, less-than, and ready to leave because the career fair only caters to a certain sort of career.

Employers don’t get to go into the room where students take off their colorful snow boots and throw on their dress shoes, shrug off their backpacks—the ones with the pins that tell you what they actually care about, and commiserate with their friends. “Did you go in there?” “Yeah, you?” “No. How is it?” “Awful, dude, but you’ve got this.” If employers did get the chance, I’m sure that they would see something that they liked about those students. They would see the way that they encourage their friends and try to ease them up with laughter, the way that their mouths turn into genuine and not “for sale” smiles, and the way that they meticulously brush the dust off their clothing and bravely exit the room in hopes of something greater. To me, these things—the character of a person, their resolve, and the way they treat others—matter.

I’m not sure how I feel about the way that professionalism and grad school are shoved down our throats at NU. I know that I don’t like the "cult of competition," the way that we constantly compare ourselves to others and their accomplishments. It's the way that we’re meant to feel like failures for not living up to impossible and unknown standards, rather than defining our own purpose. It's the way that we feel guilty for not doing something important. Our parents have spent so much money on our education and we’ve spent so much time, energy, and sleepless nights aching with that endless parasitic for what? For this career fair where consultants are conceived?

My dad always says, “You’ll make your own agenda or you’ll be a part of someone else’s.” I think that Northwestern is pretty good at making you feel like you need to co-op into someone else’s agenda. I wish that NU was a school that put more emphasis on personal creativity, on disrupting unhealthy ideas of success, on whole wellness for each student, on careers that don't require 9-5 office hours, and on diligently farming success over grasping at immediate gratification.

But NU isn't that school and the unfortunate truth is that it probably never will be. So I guess that it’s on each of us to be those kids in the coat room, encouraging each other, not letting our friends be too self-critical, and making sure that we’re treating ourselves with the same loving kindness with which we treat others, telling each other that our dreams are achievable and real. No matter what we want to do--whether it's career fair approved or not--we need to make sure that we're setting our agenda, keeping ourselves to task, and pursuing it with diligent joy.

The path that we're following should bring us passion and excitement, but If it doesn't, that's OK. It's best to spend a little more thoughtful time in the coat room, where you know that you'll have people to support you.