MCHENRY: Trust the hog

There are times when it is very easy not to trust your decision-making ability. The top of my list: mornings like last Saturday, when I woke up to the painful realization that, the night before, I’d had one too many Gourmet Heaven sandwiches.

I began that morning in the throes of a fairly familiar existential crisis — the kind where I can’t look at my texts (sometimes not even my phone), and where the decision between brunch in a dining hall or breakfast at Blue State seems unbearably immense. Instead of choosing, I decided to lie on my common room futon, scavenge from an old supply of trail mix and try out this whole Tivli business — that’s where I found the groundhog.

Punxsutawney Phil, at least according to the primarily German residents of southern Pennsylvania, can predict the future. Every Feb. 2, he emerges from his space-heated den, surveys the people around him and, depending on whether or not the sky is overcast, sees his shadow. If he does, winter continues for six more weeks. If not, spring comes early.

Having no meteorological skill of my own, I cared very much about the advice of a small woodland creature. (I blame Disney.) Phil did not see his shadow and I trusted him — I spent the next couple of minutes browsing for new pairs of Chubbies and boat shoes.

The sort of experience I had Saturday morning is symptomatic of the sophomore slump, a decision-making paralysis where I question the worth of my work (check), spend hours mulling over my numerous flaws (check), and revert to nostalgia as a coping mechanism (check plus).

I’m told that these flaws, given enough time, will develop into a “Lost in Translation”-level of ennui: the Quarter Life Crisis. Around 25, I’ll drop out of a highly lucrative consulting career to find myself. This, supposedly, leads to me touring the world searching for meaning. By 27, I’m supposed to either be teaching English in a remote Thai village or running a failing, George Eliot-themed s’mores shop (“Middlemarsh”).

The key word in all of this is “failing.” According to our own mythology, 20-somethings aren’t supposed to be good at things, and we’re supposed to hate the few skills we do have. The careers we start won’t be our last. And, unless we find “the one” early, the next 10 years of dating will probably record more one-offs and false-starts than successes.

And so, we slump. We spend the morning watching rodents on TV, avoiding confrontation, other people and, more accurately, reality. In college, this feat becomes even easier — what more does a good downward spiral need than central heating and a meal plan?

But I have problems with the idea that we should be calling this experience a “crisis.” “Crisis” implies that something has gone wrong. Struggling to eat, being denied the protection of the law, serious medical issues — those are crises. Wondering whether or not your life will have meaning? That’s just being a person.

Pretending that this kind of doubt will only come in the future minimizes the reality of the doubts we have now. People seem willing to say that they are taking a class with a professor they despise or doing an extracurricular they can’t stand because, in five years or so, they will hit the eject button and leave it all behind. That’s what happens in sit-coms.

And what is minor college comfort compared to the big event? What is a dull Saturday morning compared to the inevitable (according to this way of thinking) grand collapse of being 25, living my life like a character in “Girls,” and messing it all up?

In my opinion, telling me that I’m going to have a “quarter life crisis” is just another way of predicting the future. And, like most ways of predicting the future, I don’t care. Of course growing up will be hard. Of course I will have doubts — I have them now.

I don’t know how to avoid these melancholic weekend mornings, but do I want to recommend watching the Groundhog Day celebration. Thousands of people are on the television screen. The officiators wear funny hats. And, amidst the chaos, there is the sullen indignity of Phil himself.

There’s something to the way the groundhog wriggles his nose at the crowd surrounding him and paws against the handler’s gloves as if to say: “Do you seriously trust me to tell the future?” This is followed by a frown at the camera.

“Well, I guess I’m as good at it as anyone else.”

Jackson McHenry is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at jackson.mchenry@yale.edu .

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