Not the ‘Next Chapter’: Seeing life and learning as a continuum
Julie Wang is a rising sophomore in the Olin Business School studying Marketing and Economics & Strategy. Julie works as Strategy Fellow for Bear Studios, an undergraduate, student-run consulting and design firm.

Julie Wang, BSBA ’22, is studying marketing and economics & strategy. She wrote this for the Olin Blog.

We always ask ourselves: What’s next? After one chapter ends, what’s the next one?

These are questions that I’ve been asking myself a lot in the past year, as one natural “chapter” of my life — high school — closed and a new one started at Washington University in St. Louis. As I approached the last page on graduation day, I realized how I content I was with that chapter. The ending to this part of the story brought me to a destination toward which I had been working for so long and it all seemed to perfectly set me up to write the next four years.

To my surprise, I got to campus in the fall and the words started to fail me. Although I had years of experience as the author of my own life novel, I realized that for once in my life, I didn’t exactly know where the plot was going next.

What I prided myself on so much in high school — knowing clearly who I am and what I wanted to do—seemed to crumble when an environment filled with new people and opportunities tested me. I started to ask myself questions that had no answers.

What do you want to major in? At the moment, I thought I couldn’t possibly pick a major without knowing what I want to do post-graduation. What are you going to be involved with on campus? A question I once thought to be effortless to answer suddenly seemed just as enigmatic as the other.

All my life, it’s been one chapter after the next. I saw life in a way that seemingly reduced my options, because if something didn’t contribute to the next chapter, then it wasn’t anything at all. I limited my growth to my academic and extracurricular environments; when those chapters ended, I thought I was left with little to substantiate my “story.” If I didn’t have a destination, it seemed like I didn’t have a purpose.

Coming into college without a single ounce of confidence in what I want to do in the near future opened my mind to the idea that perhaps I don’t need to be certain about the contents of the next chapter to begin writing my story. This shift in perspective allowed me to find opportunities I otherwise may have never discovered if I had confined myself to a single mindset.

Refocusing my direction led me to consider Bear Studios, a student-led consulting and design firm that was recruiting strategy fellows for its consulting practice at the time. I had little idea as to what consulting entailed but was intrigued by the opportunity to interact with real-world businesses in the St. Louis area.

Before coming to college, I had never envisioned myself as a consultant—it wasn’t a part of my story. Yet, participating in Bear Studios has since been one of the most formative learning experiences of my first year.

During my second semester, I also decided to take a step out of my comfort zone by rushing a business fraternity. Although I wasn’t sure what was to be of my experience, the organization has shaped my growth tremendously, building my first-year story and introducing me to new ideas, opportunities, and networks on campus and in the business world.

Now, with the end of my first year of college and the start of summer break, I am faced with a re-evaluation of how I want to sustain my learning in these next few months.

Sometimes, it’s still difficult to grapple with my goal-oriented and destination-focused past self—because not knowing can truly be intimidating. But if there’s anything I do know now, it’s that I want to see life not in chapters, but as a continuum of personal growth and sustained learning. We don’t need a new “chapter” to start new projects or grow in different ways and we certainly don’t need to know how our story ends to begin writing it now.

Pictured above: Julie pictured with members of her professional fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi.

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