During my senior year of high school, my wrestling coach made a comment in casual conversation that he probably does not even remember. He said, “When I was eighteen years old, I had it all figured out. I knew everything. Now I’m thirty-five, and I don’t know anything.” The statement seemed so insignificant at the time. I heard it, but interpreted it as nothing more than the old adage that wisdom comes with age. For some unknown reason, the seeds of his words found their way into my brain; their roots have been growing deeper and stronger by the day. Since then, I constantly find myself considering his sentiments. I see now that I was (and still may be) the same as my wrestling coach. At times, my mind is certain about everything in the world around it, especially itself. Luckily, each passing day is making me more aware of my alarming inability to understand myself.
I would like to be clear about this: I do not now know, nor have I ever known exactly who I am. Furthermore, I am almost positive that the rest of my life will mimic the first nineteen years, and I will never be able to fully grasp the concept of myself. There have been times when, out of what can be retrospectively described only as a combination of ignorance and arrogance, my mind has been utterly convinced of itself. There were points in my life when I could have perfectly described to someone else who Jake Ewing was. I was an athlete, or I was a scholar, or I was a writer – I was always something, but I was never just myself. With time and experience (and what I sincerely hope is wisdom), I have begun to understand that this constant labeling only reinforces my sheer lack of knowledge about the identity of Jake Ewing.
At this time last year, I had a tediously detailed plan for the rest of my life. I could not have been more convinced of it. In just five years, I would be graduating from the University of Akron with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Because of the astounding job-placement rate in this field, I would have found employment long before graduating, and would be well on my way to financial stability and happiness. After a few years of work as a Chemical Engineer, I would begin studying patent law at Georgetown University. Upon completion of my studies there, the United States Patent Office would hire me to issue copyrights for different chemical designs or innovations. Surely, this occupation would lead to even greater wealth, and more enjoyment in my life overall. I would then use my money to start and support a beautiful family, and travel as often as I could.
That was it. That was how I was to spend the rest of my days, my eighteen year-old self had decided. But just when I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted, I realized that I absolutely despised what I was studying. Every moment spent working toward being an engineer felt like an absolute waste of time and effort. I hated it, and I began to understand that if I continued doing it for the rest of my life, I would eventually undergo the type of mid-life crisis that becomes a top story on the evening news. Worse than this, I could not (and still cannot) say for certain why I found chemical engineering so undesirable. Again, my lack of understanding regarding myself was on display. I recognized how useful it is to society, and I saw all of the good that can come from it, but I could no longer force myself to study it. The one fact that I could fully comprehend was that I had to get out of that field as quickly as possible. The plans I made would have been perfect, under the condition that Jake Ewing was really who I believed him to be. As it turns out, he was not.
Now, I am a student at Ashland University, studying different disciplines that I honestly believe Jake Ewing enjoys. Literature, writing, language, philosophy: all of these things fascinate me today, but I cannot promise that they will tomorrow. By the time these words are read, I may want to study education or toxicology or something else completely different. Despite all of this, I must regretfully admit that precise plans for my life still exist. As far as I am concerned, my practice of constant planning seems to be laced with some type of intangible nicotine, and I am hopelessly addicted. Even though the plans are in place, I am not nearly as sure of them as I was of those previously created.
For the time being, Jake Ewing is completely satisfied with his current situation, and excited about the plans that he has so foolishly made. Of course, there is no guarantee that this will always be the case. That is perhaps the most useful piece of knowledge that I have gained in college. I am gradually starting to understand just how stupid I really am regarding the future. Finally, I know that I do not know. I do not know what tomorrow holds. I cannot even say why I am interested in studying certain subjects, and why I hate to study others. I certainly do not know what I want to be if I grow up. Before I can figure any of those questions out, I have to be able to understand who Jake Ewing is, and if my personal history is any indication, that may prove an impossible task.
Jake Ewing is a freshman from Wooster, Ohio, majoring in Political Science, English, and Creative Writing.