Yesterday, while I was sitting on a Bulldog Days panel about student life at Yale, a prefrosh asked a question that struck me deeply. “With regard to majors, everyone’s talked a lot about finding what you’re interested in … I’m wondering what it means to be interested in something — and how you know when you’ve found it.” All of the panelists were silent.
Whether it’s because I can’t articulate an answer, or because I don’t have one, I have been mulling over this question ever since that panel. Because, implicit in the question of what it means to be interested in something, is the question of how best to make our time here meaningful — a struggle with which I think everyone at Yale can identify in some capacity.
Coming to Yale, I had a hyper-rigid idea of what I should be getting out of my time here: “I’m here for academics,” I’d tell my parents. “I can make any campus life work, so long as I’m plugged into books and discussion.”
Yale is ultimately concerned with providing such a diverse array of programs, classes, research opportunities and majors, that no intellectual pursuit is out of reach. This is one of Yale’s biggest strengths, but, with my first year at Yale coming to a close, I think there are legitimate shortcomings to this overabundance of intellectual offerings.
For example, it is easy for those who don’t know exactly what they wish to do to find shopping period as a sprint to every remotely interesting listed class in an attempt to fully immerse themselves in the incredible course offerings. For these people, making final cuts to their classes on Coursetable is more like soul pruning. Indeed, there is an anxiety of missing out that spurs a culture of hyperactivity — where we zip along, trying to never miss out, while, in the process, missing out all the more.
Socially, too, Friday and Saturday nights are packed with suite parties and pregames, sometimes a club mixer, then fraternity parties or the occasional birthday party. Time spent at one is time lost at another, and as trivial as it may seem, it was typical for my friends to try and attend as many hosted events as possible, and still feel dissatisfied — like they had not fully seized the night even in their midnight maudlin frenzy.
All too often friendships fall victim to this same anxiety of missing out. I met up with a close friend of mine the other day, and she was telling me about how she has her plate full just maintaining the close friendships she has now. As I left she added, with a painful half-smile, how that night she had three dinners with three different people scheduled back to back to back.
So many of us buy into the friendship-over-dinner mentality because of its convenience. My hesitation is that friendship can too easily become so bureaucratized and G-Cal-ed that the only thing holding it together is an occasional meal. And while this may mean that we have time to meet more people or get our work done, we are sacrificing deeper, more fulfilling personal connections.
I don’t think the proper conclusions to draw from this are that Yale should whittle away its course offerings, or that we should have fewer party options, or even that we should necessarily spend more time with our friends. Instead, I simply wish to take these reflections and have them inform us as how to best make our time count. Practically, I think that means slowing down and not falling prey to the anxiety of missing out.
One of the rituals of Yale is self-transformation. In that vein, I have increasingly found that my naïve ideas of academic rigor being my lifeblood at college were just that — half-baked and poorly founded. The fact of the matter is that if Yale were only concerned with offering intense intellectualism, we would all do better to save a quarter of a million dollars and read books and Wikipedia articles.
President Peter Salovey began this academic year by urging us to “emulate the fox.” But, in reflecting on my first year, and on how to best answer that prefrosh’s question, I’ve found that fulfillment comes more from the depth of our engagements — with friendships or with academics — than in the breadth of our engagement for breadth’s sake.
Sammy Landino is a first year in Hopper College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .