My mom and aunt helped me move in this year. My mom, being my mom, left me posters with inspirational messages written on them. One depicts a unicorn listening to a therapist. “You need to believe in yourself,” says the therapist to the mythical creature. But the sign that always stands out in my mind is the smallest one on my wall. It bears a quote from Kurt Vonnegut: “Enjoy the little things in life because one day, you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”
In recent days, this sign has done more to irritate me than to inspire me — I don’t have time for little things. Even if I did, it’s not as though the little things were going to get me a summer internship, a job after college or so many of the other things I plan for and dream about. The little things are dispensable. After all, it’s the big things that define us — ostensibly, at least. We go to Yale. Our lives would be incredibly different if we didn’t. Can any of us doubt the anguish we would have experienced had we not gotten into any of the “big” schools that were on our college lists? And, for 99 percent of us, I’d imagine that not going to college was inconceivable.
So much of our academic lives revolves around choosing (or even applying to) a major, taking classes with big name professors or being named X fellow or Y prize recipient. Junior spring, we worry about what societies will tap us. I remember a friend of mine caught up in the society craze saying, “Help, I didn’t know I cared so much about being connected with old, white and powerful alumni.” And, finally, as our bright college years come to a close, but likely much sooner than that, we worry about jobs and our post-college careers. Will we “sell out” or stay true to our deepest desires and most fervent dreams?
The big things matter to us more than we care to admit. When I see that poster hanging above where I rest my head, I cannot help but smirk at the irony. Far too often, my head is filled with thoughts of law school, graduate school, my GPA, my summer plans, my career plans, everything except what’s in front of me now. Everything except the little things.
The past few weeks have been hard. More often than not, I’ve asked myself why I’m doing what I’m doing, whether that be taking a class, attending a club meeting or writing a column. To what end do I strive for things, for what purpose do I overburden myself with worry? Why do I even go to a school like Yale?
Asking these questions is alien to me. I hated my senior year of high school. I felt like I had no friends, my girlfriend left to go to college in New York, and I thought that my school had offered me all that it could. At the time, Yale was the light at the end of the tunnel. It was my big thing. That’s all I had going for me, and when I got in, I had a new mantra whenever I was dissatisfied: “In a few months, I’ll be at Yale, and none of this will matter. Finally, I’ll get to be my own person.”
Just a few months ago, in the dog days of a Texas summer, I had a similar attitude. I felt restless and anxious. Now that I’m here, I don’t feel any different from how I felt in the summer, and, while different from those I faced in high school, Yale brings new problems altogether.
So what happens when our “big things” disappoint us, as they inevitably will? What happens when they fail to offer us the respite we so desperately seek? We focus on the little things. In recent days, no big thing has brought a smile to my face the way that the note from a writing tutor about a column I wrote did. The oft lauded late-night conversation with friends over breakfast sandwiches from GHeav or the simple fact of living and working with so many talented, wondrous people in a school with architecture that never fails to amaze me — these little things are sometimes the only things that keep me going.
The fact that the poster above where I rest my head irritates me is a testament to how easy it is to become jaded, to lose sight of what matters. I write this column to put a stake in the ground for myself. The big things aren’t everything we think they are, and while they can serve as inspiration, it’s the little things that keep us going day to day. To lose sight of that is to become a shell, a mindless thrall devoid of purpose. I can’t let that happen.
Adrian Rivera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .