In 1982, Nancy Reagan introduced a powerful and oft-parodied phrase into the American lexicon: “Just say no.” Armed with perfectly coiffed hair and perfectly padded shoulders, Mrs. Reagan visited middle school auditoriums and talk show sets alike, her script a simple message: if someone wants you — yes, you, right over there — to experiment with sex, drugs, rock and/or roll, just say no.
All licentiousness aside, I’ve always had a hard time internalizing Mrs. Reagan’s advice. The stereotypical crucible of the competitive suburban public high school necessitated saying yes. Yes to more work; yes to more responsibility; yes to evenings consumed by obligations, commitments, and the occasional session of “Jersey Shore” procrastination. Only by perennially saying yes — and perpetually eschewing sleep — could I prove how hardcore I really was, how Protestant my work ethic could be.
Naively, I decided that college would be different. No longer would I waste time on things I merely liked; no longer would I merely dabble in things I loved. I knew it was time to grow up, and growing up meant one thing: finding a passion.
It seems sometimes like everyone in college — hell, even everyone important in life — has a passion. Jane Goodall is passionate about chimpanzees. Oprah is passionate about her favorite things. The students in the Yale brochure are passionate, too: about Middle Eastern politics and journalism and researching infectious diseases. And what was I passionate about? I wasn’t sure, so I entered the activities bazaar with a single mission consuming my mind: I, Marissa Medansky, Yale freshman, was going to find my passion. And I was going to do so in approximately two hours and 23 minutes.
The bazaar proved to be a challenge. My roommate and I clung to each other, hoping to make sense of the fray. Together, we bounced from booth to booth, and while she mustered the resolve to refuse the outstretched clipboards and well-meaning handouts, I could not. I, once again, found myself saying yes to everything. The only notable exception was religious conversion. In a place filled with clubs to join, sports to play, and causes to champion, every “no” felt like a closed door: a painful, even final, rejection of opportunity. And I couldn’t do it.
So I left Payne Whitney exhausted, sweaty and shaken, my hands filled with a toppling stack of fliers. And this week, my calendar is filled with a precarious balance — or rather, imbalance — of introductory meetings, study sessions, meet-and-greets, and occasionally meals, most of them occurring simultaneously.
I can’t do everything, and sorting through that everything to find the something I want to do is a daunting task. After all, the only way I can determine my interests is by saying yes: allowing myself to try that club or attend that practice or write that article. On the other hand, the only way I can avoid a freshman year of dangerous sleep deprivation is by saying no, culling through the new interests to determine what I actually love.
Some habits never die. I still say yes to everything: to outstretched clipboards; to inconvenient meeting times; to last-minute columns for the Yale Daily News (hey, guys). But now I say yes not in the hope that I can prove how hardcore I am, but rather so that I can discover — somewhere between the dance troupes and YPU parties — the things that truly define my passions. I don’t need to find my passion freshman year. I might spend my entire life searching for a passion that will never arrive. But when it comes to attending the introductory meeting of your organization next week, I can only say one thing: maybe.
Marissa Medansky is a freshman in Morse College.