SYDNEY: College, actually

I woke up in the morning feeling like Alexander of “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” fame. To be more precise, I woke up at 8:45 for my 9 a.m. class, but astonishingly, I made it to section on time.

Perhaps the flush of this early morning accomplishment lulled me into a false sense of “everything will be okay,” because I promptly proceeded to miss a meeting with a professor and then a lecture in quick succession.

By lunch, I thought I had survived: I made it to my next section! But then, I went to edit a piece at the Yale Daily News, where my editor and I came to the mutual agreement that it was pretty terrible, behind deadline and generally disappointing.

I trudged back to my dorm. I collapsed on my bed. I cried. I called my mother. I took a shower. I woke up the next morning and got to class on time.

The moral of this story is not that I am incapable of doing anything right, nor is it that this day triggered a movie-montage-style bout of getting reorganized and refocused, ready to take on the world.

It was the realization that the underlying source of this mini-breakdown was not my anxiety-ridden day, but the feeling of Doing Nothing Well.

This wasn’t about miserably failing at anything in particular. This was about the knowledge that I should have, could have, would have, under ordinary circumstances, done better.

And it was strange, because, after all, I did more in high school — took more classes, participated in more extracurriculars and community service. Now, I was wracked by a constant feeling of not doing enough — while simultaneously not having enough time or energy to do what was already on my plate. It didn’t add up.

Part of this conundrum is the fault of my expectations, derived from my own desires and the assurances of those around me: You have so much time. Everything is perfect. It’s Hogwarts. The worst days in college are like the best days in high school.

In truth, college is not a fantasyland. College is life; it’s reality. There are good days and bad days and stressful nights and mornings when your alarm doesn’t go off. Looking back, it was silly to think it would be any other way. But I did.

Over Thanksgiving break, I chatted with my high school friends not only about this phenomenon, but also the pressure to pretend that it doesn’t even exist. There’s an expectation that even as you try to navigate a social life without the friendships into which you’ve invested years of time and emotion, even as you cut ties with the support systems you’ve built, even as you leave your family behind, you will be happy. Happier than you have ever been. Ever. Because these are the best four years of your life and you will enjoy every minute.

This seems ridiculous, because it is. But in the conversations I had last week, I noticed my friends had a certain amount of shame in admitting that they’re anything less than ecstatic at college.

The bottom line is that college can be difficult and flawed. Feelings of mediocrity and crash-and-burn days abound. But I am happy.

Before the break, I cooked and shared a Thanksgiving-themed dinner with a group of 17 friends in the Sillikitchen. Sitting around that table loaded with stuffing, apple pie, mashed potatoes and gourmet mac and cheese, I was so thankful — and truly happy. Maybe even happier than I’ve ever been.

That doesn’t have to mean everything is perfect, though, and I’m the first to admit it.

Caroline Sydney is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at caroline.sydney@yale.edu .

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