It’s that time of the year. Midterms lurk around every corner. Deadlines for papers, internships and study abroad trips seem to inch closer and closer by the minute. We worry about spreading mono after sharing a saliva-coated object of ill repute with the suite above us. Troubling times indeed. Even worse, interpersonal tensions seem to be at an all-time high and — instead of asking your suitemate to turn down the music for the umpteenth time — you pop in some ear plugs, turn your speaker toward the door and give them a taste of their own medicine. After all, you can only take so much of “Walking on a Dream.” We are petty animals, all.
There was once a time where words flowed like wine, where we organically drifted from topic to topic, where all the faces seemed so fresh and new and interesting. Now, gathered around the dinner table, a woeful soul will force their friends to mechanically recite their spring break plans. The conversation peters out with the exhaustion visible in everybody’s eyes. We are shells stuck in the iron cage that is Yale University. We work ourselves to exhaustion, we “get lit” to have fun for a few precious moments on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday night only to put our noses to the proverbial grindstone the following day. I’m being dramatic, of course. Life isn’t like that on a consistent basis for most people. But there is a general sense that the simplicity and singularity of freshness at Yale is ending. It’s no wonder that the “sophomore slump” is an oft-remarked-upon phenomenon. The first semester of freshman year is filled with novelty and awe. The second semester, with its frigid winds, close to uninterrupted work cycle and socioprofessional pressures, has become difficult and tiresome. How does this bode for the rest of our time at Yale?
This question is intimately connected with another: Where do we find meaning? At Yale, meaning can often be a far-flung prospect. Meaning is that thing that we’ll seek only after we’ve secured the internship, once we’ve finished the reading, once we’ve done X, Y and Z. While there may not be an essential meaning to the things that we do at Yale, meaning is something that we manufacture, something that we ascribe to the activity or endeavor that we’ve chosen to pursue.
But the creation of meaning is something that takes time. It requires deep thinking, not just a cursory perusal of why something is or is not important. And time is something that we don’t have. If only it were so easy to make everything stop for a while. Is rest, reflection and deep thinking even possible in a fast-paced, preprofessional, academic environment like Yale? Moreover, can we find meaning a world that doesn’t stand still, where we — and so much of what we pursue — are transient?
With this perhaps futile search for meaning comes the indolence that accompanies so much of our lives at school. What is it all for if not “the next thing,” whether that next thing is graduate school, professional school or a job in consulting? We’re so wrapped up in what comes next that we can’t focus on the now, and perhaps we don’t want to because we don’t know what we’re doing at 18 years old.
But today, at a time where I personally feel more haggard and worn down than ever, I advocate for pulling the emergency break. Even if it means not doing the reading, not going to a meeting or not fulfilling some other commitment, stop and think about what you are doing. Stop and think about what drives you, about what you find most fascinating in class, about the little things, about the big things. Find time to find meaning. Maybe then, our eyes won’t divulge exhaustion, our conversations won’t peter out and our days won’t seem to exclusively center on work. Maybe then, we’ll have something to say over dinner.
Adrian Rivera is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. His column usually runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .