It’s 9 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, and I’m sitting across from a friend in the Trumbull library. The narrow room is toasty and dimly lit as usual, and she and I are typing furiously — not essays or columns, but text messages. After a few largely nonsensical exchanges, I send her this message: “why did i come here to ‘work’ when really we’re just typing messages to each other in the silent sanctity of this WORKING SPACE while side-eyeing each other,” which elicits a snort on her behalf — oh, I’m sorry, a soft chuckle, she would never snort. Then I — gently, lovingly — mute her and we both get back to our assignments, like perfectly focused Yale students.
But if I’m being honest with myself, a few minutes of unwinding are much-needed in my life. This past week has been a series of unwanted late nights, unexpected emotional debacles and expected — but draining — exams, writing assignments and lab reports. As of this moment in the Trumbrary, I’ve finally returned to equilibrium — and I’m basking in how good it feels to be in full control of my calendar again. And yet, this sense of relief makes me wonder why I cling so strongly to the illusion of control. Perhaps this desire has always been a part of me, not so deep down in my anal personality, but something about college has made me crave it more than ever. I don’t spend enough time pondering the extent to which it has consumed my life.
Put simply, I lack flexibility. Off-kilter, spontaneous moments bring a thrill, followed by a pulse of anxiety. I am more comfortable with plans. Routines. Premeditation. I won’t dismiss the significant benefits of perfectionism — that cute little drive that keeps my problem sets neat and ensures the satisfaction of my TAs — but I will ask this: What is the goal of all of this focus and order? If the true reason that I work so hard Monday through Friday is so I can do what I really want to do — lie in bed, skip town to NYC or send ridiculous streams of texts to my friends — then why am I putting any of that off until the weekend? Or worse, until after I graduate? Or even worse, until after I retire?
I’m not going to go into depth about Yale’s maddening dedication to overachievement and ignorance of individual limitations, because we talk about that all the time and nothing has changed. But there should be a limit to setting professional priorities, and buying into Yale culture has enabled me to take it too far. Stockholm syndrome — when it comes to work, extracurriculars, jobs and party life — is a verifiable epidemic at Yale.
The cure is not taking more classes or fewer classes. It is not making more friends or fewer friends. It is not eating more or less Stiles pizza on a rainy Thursday night. There is no singular cure, because the issue has no singular root. Perhaps the cure, more broadly, is simply the opposite of perfectionism: taking time for ourselves in different, unplanned, messy ways, and rejecting the toxic perspectives that we have on free time — napping isn’t a waste of an afternoon. Spending an hour in the dining hall isn’t lazing around. Taking fewer classes isn’t a missed opportunity. Going to New York over the weekend isn’t just escapism — in fact, in some realm far outside of our preprofessional lives, taking the day off is just called living.
The cure is change and knowing when change is needed. If implementing the same study habit again and again has exhausted you beyond caring, admit that you need to try something different. After all, even though each shopping period leads to a new course schedule, this is negated if you fall into the same emotional or psychological ruts as always. I, for one, cannot afford to eschew freedom for the sake of routines and order — not when I have many years of schooling ahead of me and at least 45 years before retirement.
While I don’t think that we should abandon every study habit or coffee shop we’ve ever frequented, I do think that little bits of active change can do a lot for tired, bored Yale souls. If we could all take a moment to separate ourselves from the negative mindset that keeps us from having the freedom to do what we really want, maybe we could all improve our lives. So, make that bucket list, take those risks or stop taking so many risks. The cure will not come naturally; we have to want it and pursue it, sometimes just by sending silly texts in the Trumbrary.
Catherine Yang is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .