SATHIAN: Don’t be afraid of being small

Let me tell you something about life after Yale. It’s small.

Yale makes us infinite. We exist in past, present and future at all times. We are the roads we took to get there. We live for the people we will one day become. Meanwhile, we thrive in a present unlike any other present because it is composed of an infinite, shimmering bridge of our potential. At Yale, we get to be every version of our future selves all at once. We interact with our peers under an unspoken contract, which, if articulated, might go something like: “I believe that we can both be every version of our selves in this moment. We will not ask each other to be smaller than that.”

At Yale, you and your friends and your lives are sprawled out in front of you forever and you hold this conviction that when you graduate, you will take a big, scary jump, but where you land will be some continuation of that infinite.

It isn’t, exactly.

Where many of you will land is in a series of days that have a different pace. You wake up and sit and work or write or think; you lunch and drink and come home and sleep and do it again. There will be people who matter and those who don’t; sparks some days, dullness on others. The daily gestures you make will be small ones. Careful reaches, inspired by small goals: to meet one new person, to learn one new skill. Never again will your menu of life choices be Blue Book-able in quite the same way.

Out here, away from the Gothic spires, things become finite. You don’t instantly become every version of your best self. You don’t, in most cases, immediately take up residence in the skin of the person you wanted to grow up to be. Because in all likelihood, you wanted to be a mermaid and an astronaut and a doctor. And maybe right now, you want to be an MBA and humanitarian and a doctor. A writer and a doer. A dancer and a scientist. But one day, sometime soon, someone will ask you to make a choice: be one or the other, for a month or a year. Be a noun (as opposed to a verb), they will say. And that choice will take you from infinite, to suddenly, frighteningly, finite.

I’m not writing to tell you what kinds of jobs you should or shouldn’t apply for. I’m not writing to tell you whether to move to New York or not. (I didn’t.) I’m not writing to try to group your futures into collective categories of “sell-out” or “not sell-out.”

I’m writing to you, you lucky current Yalies, because I’m guessing some of you will be where I am now next fall. You’ll know some things, but you won’t know most things. You’ll be doing something, but you won’t be doing everything you thought you would be. You’ll be living a small, finite life, and grappling with your infinite dreams.

Let me tell you something I’m learning about a small life: each finite moment — each moment I’m doing a job that isn’t what I’ll be doing forever, driving across the country through city after city that will never be my home, meeting and dating and crying and laughing and dancing with people who aren’t quite my people, but who do just fine — each small moment actually is, somehow, an incarnation of that larger infinite, even if I don’t always feel so infinite.

You still hold your dreams loosely out in front of you, out here.

You still see them and run toward their smoky shapes.

But sometimes, you stop and look down in the dirt and see your own footprints and realize that where you tread right now matters, that the small things build to big things. That what matters is when you wake up and how you think about your daily dose of sun and books and breath. That a dinner on a porch with new, foreign people matters just as much as your esoteric, wintry trudge to a seminar. That even though you aren’t striding along in the current of a Great University’s history and future, you are striding along in the current of your history and future. That your pleasure and your happiness bud from the smallest of places, even when you aren’t doing the biggest of things — just yet.

Sanjena Sathian is a 2013 graduate of Morse College.

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