Morgan Brooks: Finding Purpose in My Academics

I recently found out that it’s actually okay to not know what your next step in life will be. I used to have a five-year, ten-year, and twenty-year plan, detailing each move I would need to take to have the life of my dreams: a comfortable lifestyle, a fulfilling sense of purpose, and something I could feel proud to talk about at future reunions. The thing is, life never actually goes according to plan. I think I truly realized this glaring fact between freshman and sophomore year, when I was staring at the ceiling, wondering if college was really “the right choice for me.” After talking to my advisor, I realized I was in it for all of the wrong reasons. I was trying to follow the path that I thought would make my parents and others in my life feel proud of me. After a heart-to-heart with my advisor, I realized maybe, just maybe, I should try doing what I want, not what I thought would be the “most impressive.”

The next semester, I filled my schedule with classes I was actually excited to take. Miraculously, I went from a student who never showed up to class to being the student who never missed a class the whole semester. I became the student who was so excited about writing projects and papers that I could never settle on one topic because I wanted to write about all of them. I discovered that I actually loved school when I took classes that were important to me because my personal investment guided me to do more meaningful things with my knowledge.

I started getting involved with the AMCS department, becoming a research assistant and digital assistant, where I could watch my passions turn into real projects with real impacts. One of the most rewarding projects I participated in was the AMCS initiative: The Material World of Modern Segregation (MWMS). Through taking courses in AMCS, I discovered a personal commitment to studying the dynamics of St. Louis and a love for collaborative academics. The MWMS project allowed me to learn more about the city that is so close to my heart while helping contributors from many different universities and disciplines come together. Seeing my name attached to MWMS blog posts where I interviewed contributors or examined concepts of the project made me realize something else: this was so much better than “squeaking by” in classes I hated for a degree I never wanted to use. Instead of making it through college for the sake of a piece of paper, I was finding a sense of purpose in my academics.

Morgan contributed several essays to the project blog including, “What is a Site?”

To learn more about the Material World of Modern Segregation project.

I realized that focusing on my personal strengths instead of competing with everyone else would open up more doors than I ever knew existed. The more I poured myself into doing what I love and putting all of my effort into it, the more opportunities I found to keep working on projects I enjoy. Because of my AMCS coursework in history, anthropology, and culture, I found a part-time job at the Army Corps of Engineers in their Archaeology, Curation, and Archives department, which is always an interesting adventure. From sorting through declassified Desert Storm documents to going on site visits at the St. Louis new NGA site, every day is something different and rewarding. My job came purely as a result of saying “yes” to something that sounded fulfilling.

Sometimes it is still a bit scary because the obsessive part of me still wants to plan out every step of my future, but I’ve learned that keeping an open mind and doing what I actually care about instead of comparing myself to other people's success has given the freedom and opportunities I would have never even imagined if I didn’t open myself up to them. When I look around, it seems like a lot of people have it figured out. But it’s important to remember that there are many definitions of success and an infinite number of paths to reach success.