COHEN: Finding sweet in the unexpected

“Shana tova, may you be inscribed for a sweet year!”

I still vividly remember exchanging these words with friends and family at our synagogue in Cleveland last year as we celebrated the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I had a big year ahead of me, and I knew exactly what I wanted from my own sweet year: health for my family, success in my classes, a wonderful senior prom and to spend the next Rosh Hashanah at the college of my dreams — Harvard University.

We all enter the new year — be it the Jewish year or just another year of school — with our own conception of what will make it sweet. We all have hopes, plans and dreams, and we figure that these have to become realities in order for the next 12 months to be fun and fulfilling. So many of us are dead-set on getting exactly what we want, and the thought of events going in any way other than this perfect plan makes us shudder. We cast aside any notion of taking risks and trying new things in order to avoid losing our idealized vision of the year. By doing so, we risk missing out on the new adventures and experiences that might actually make the year special.

Here at Yale, a new haven for many of the super motivated overachievers of the world, we can especially get caught up in the details of what exactly we want. As a freshman, we know we want to take seminar X, join a cappella group Y and get impressive internship Z. We plan on joining these three clubs, starting on our athletic team, acing our classes and fitting in a hookup at Toad’s while we’re at it. But by detailing our existence so perfectly, we potentially lose the sweetest part of each year: the surprises, the fresh starts, the unanticipated pleasures that turn up on our doorstep.

This makes Yale a place to take advantage of the unexpected. Service groups, performance groups, and chances to see and do and meet and try new things surround us. Now could be our chance to join all of them. But we need to remember to also join the groups we didn’t know existed, or never planned on joining. Our lives will be sweeter when we look for the Master’s Tea with someone we’ve never heard of, or the leader in a field we know virtually nothing about.

Now, I’m not advocating that we abandon our dreams. We all should have something to strive toward and prepare for; it can give us focus and purpose. But we should not become so obsessed with our desires, so convinced that there’s only one way to have a “sweet year,” that we shut out all possibility for re-evaluation and reinvention. A year can veer away from the “plan” and still be the best one yet; in fact, it is the cases of the unexpected that make years truly memorable.

As I look back at the past year, it’s amazing to think about how different it was than what I initially planned. Success in my classes came with a lot more struggle than I had thought. I went to prom with someone who I didn’t even know at the start of the year. And my dream college? Sometimes we dream about attaining one goal and then are lucky enough to end up with something even better. Like so many of you, I’m here at the school that’s just right for me. Life honestly couldn’t be sweeter.

So shana tova, everyone, have a sweet, exciting, outstanding 5774. I hope many of your wishes come true. And the ones that don’t? I hope you find something even better instead.

Russell Cohen is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at russell.cohen@yale.edu.

Comments