The student illusion of absolute answers

Why there are no real answers despite what we are taught

Very early on in life, we learn that there are questions and there are answers.

How many chromosomes do humans have? 46. What’s the largest planet in our solar system? Jupiter. What is the most abundant element in the universe? Hydrogen. How many times has Drake thought about proposing to someone? 42 times and counting.

All of my student life, which has been most of my life, I have been taught the simple knowledge that questions have answers. This is to say that there is always a right answer, a wrong answer, the most correct answer or an answer waiting to be found. This concept has been drilled into my head through years of testing.

It was straightforward and absolute, and I loved it for that reason. As a result, I naturally gravitated toward sciences and mathematics and thrived under their structured domains.

Finding the answers became my strength, and this is what I did for years, inside and outside of the classroom. If there was a problem, I would find a solution to it. Then I would plug, chug and repeat. This was my formula for everything.

However, over the last year, I realized that maybe not everything is as cut and dry as I was led to believe. This was really hammered into me during exam week last term, when I was on a verge of a crisis. I was brutally unprepared for a final that just so happened to be the next day.

I rummaged through the internet for advice, guidance, hints or clues for a solution. I analyzed all my options. I could pull an all-nighter, but that would not be ideal because I would much rather sleep.

Alternatively, I could go through every PowerPoint presentation that has been uploaded since the start of the term, but I didn’t have the time and it might not even be helpful. After exhausting all the scenarios in my head and coming up empty, it dawned on me that the situation was not looking good.

This was the first time in my life where I didn’t have an answer to my own dilemma, and that terrified me. Therefore, I did the best thing my melodramatic self could do and sat sombrely as I contemplated my whole life during the 40-minute bus ride back to my house, listening to the background noises of my favourite sad song.

For the first 20 minutes, I tried to reason with and reassure myself. However, despite my best efforts, I was up against a stubborn opponent, so all I could do was ask myself why.

Why do I need a perfect GPA when I don’t even know what I need it for? Why does the thought of a bad grade make me physically sick to my stomach? Why does this matter so much to me when I know it doesn’t matter at all?

Yet again, I was coming up blank for answers. Then it hit me. Maybe this is just life. There are no right or wrong answers, just experiences. We are simply meant to go through life, not looking for answers, but rather making choices and living with them.

Seeing my life as an experience to be lived through and not a series of tests I have to pass to get to the next stage made me realize that I don’t need any answers at all. I don’t need to know what the right career for me is, the right place to relocate to or what I want to do right after graduation.

I just need to make a choice and be brave enough to live through it, determined enough to see it through, hopeful enough to believe in it and delusional enough to know that I will always be okay in the end.

I made my choices throughout the fall term that led me to that point, and so I just had to live through it and do my best. Therefore, I did just that. I used the 24 hours I had left and made the best, most reasonable choices I could, then took my exam. I could tell you how everything ended up, but that would be giving you an answer.