With 2014 freshly upon us, so comes the time for New Year’s resolutions. And Yale certainly isn’t at a deficit for good ones: Box 63 could resolve to destroy its noxious smoke machine; the YCC could bring a country act to Spring Fling; some heroic professor can fill in for Black Atlantic before course schedules are due.
For students, there are some conventional options: eat fewer late night tacos at Tomatillo, sleep at least once every day, finish “Game of Thrones,” get decent grades. However, at a place like Yale, a certain common question seems to quietly guide the way we peer toward the future: What am I missing?
With a new semester comes a bare Google Calendar and empty to-do list. Yale students are anxious about plenty of things, but there is nothing we fear more than a tabula rasa. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the non-overbooked life is something far worse.
This is not always a bad thing. Yale isn’t “all things to all people,” but it comes awfully close sometimes. The University’s defining virtue is its student body, an enchanting blend of the intimidating and inspiring. Conversations in common rooms that drift into the early morning, traditions with teams or clubs and innumerable performances of peers’ talents collectively overshadows even Yale’s highest ivory tower. Our impulse to consistently endeavor — to try and then to commit to new things — yields great benefits, as we seek to wrap our arms as widely as possible around our time here.
But we are also sometimes aware how this inclination comes with damning shortfalls. With the question — what am I missing? — we often attempt to look forward through the rearview mirror. Earlier experiences are tradeoffs; we think in the vernacular of opportunity costs. For each new course or research project, so goes jogging with a friend or grabbing dinner with your suitemates. And it’s not a zero-sum game: it always seems that one comes in while an infinite bevy of equally appealing options go out.
The conventional wisdom that counters this tension is, in so many words, to sit back and smell the roses. And so, among the many resolutions, is one to pause and take in the little things. This is all well and good — it is an invaluable lesson for navigating four years through these halls. But it is not enough. Although at times this seems impossible to do, in truth it is also a bit too easy. It hints that all we really need to do is be ourselves and let the world organically wash over, seated comfortably atop our natural laurels.
And while this mentality is intended to curb the consuming ambition of résumé padding, it alternatively promotes the opposite. When we are encouraged to turn the spotlight consistently outward, engaging the world in terms of our current dispositions and expectations, it fosters a false introspection. All that is left is the paper we look to contort the world to fit on, rather than the other way around.
A friend of mine recently said that college — and Yale specifically — is the unique time in our lives when it is “easiest to do the hardest things.” She wasn’t referring to Orgo or the earliest leg of a budding gubernatorial run.
They are the things that stick to our ribs, below the convenience of our noticeable insecurities and woven deeply into our most tractable complacencies. They are those that have escaped the glance of our loved ones and friends because we’ve kept them away. They are consciously hidden — what is left behind from our casual rationalizations, moral pragmatics or bluntly justified ambitions. They are debts we convince ourselves can be paid later; worth it for the sake of the long run.
While their details are unique, these vices, faults and omissions are common. A completed Yale experience, in its true sense, ought to strive to uncover them, and a fulfilled one ought to provide glimpses into their eradication. When thinking about resolutions — the expectations we set for ourselves before entering adulthood — perhaps it’s better to first focus on the thorns attached to our laurels.
Harry Graver is a senior in Davenport College. His columns run on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.