Quite honestly, I’m not a fan of the new year. I’m not really a fan of resolutions, either. The hype was always anticlimactic, the resolutions performative. Cynicism aside, I do like self-reflection, but I don’t think we should wait until the first of a year to do it. As I write this on the first of January, I’m reflecting on my past years and their different effects on my life.
During my sophomore year, I slumped. Hard. To the outside, maybe it looked like I had my life together. I guess I had succeeded in creating a my-life-is-put-together persona. But I was fundamentally unhappy. I was disillusioned, believing that I was trapped in the Yale bubble.
I busied myself with work, convincing myself that superficial praise from professors and peers would fulfill me in some way.
I couldn’t let myself be unhappy. I felt pressured to always be happy, or at least appear to be. I mean, these are the best years of my life, right? Adults repeat it to us ad nauseam. It’s a mantra that translates to bumping shoulders with renowned professors, binge drinking and anecdotes of reckless behavior. Yes, I wanted to take advantage of all that college had to offer, but I also had this pressure that made me believe that every moment I was unproductive — whether professionally, academically or even socially (Am I going to enough parties? Am I having enough fun?) — was a complete and utter waste.
Granted, it felt like much of my sophomore year was a product of circumstance, producing material fit for a sitcom. From awkward run-ins with peers to unstimulating but required classes to extracurricular plans going awry, my second year here often felt out of my control. But it didn’t have to feel that way. Yes, there were circles of people I would run into no matter what I did, but there were also plenty of faces I didn’t recognize walking to class, each being an opportunity to meet a new friend. I had a choice in determining who I saw on a daily basis and what I wanted to do. Nearing the end of my sophomore year, I learned to say “no” to obligations that made me feel empty. I devoted my free time to things that excited me, whether that be salsaing under the stars or finding new places to write. I also learned to say “yes” to spontaneous excursions I wouldn’t normally try. I was more deliberate in whom I spent time with and invested in the people I loved instead of networking with acquaintances. Slowly, but surely, I felt that I had regained some agency, consciously choosing a college experience where I could more frequently be happy, but also accept that I could sometimes be sad, angry and frustrated, realizing that it was all part of the growing process.
I’m not saying that we can control our happiness all of the time, nor that being happy is easy. Life isn’t linear — it would be incredibly dull if it were. My high school notebooks are littered with doodles of sine curves. They were fun to draw and now allow me some creative liberty. Then, I probably wasn’t trying to be poetic, but life is a lot like a sine curve: made up of ups and downs.
After my first semester, I wrote a journal entry that read, “College just happens to be composed of very high highs and very low lows.” After five semesters, I couldn’t agree more, except I’d add that we can in some ways control what we’re going to do about those highs and lows.
Reflecting on and being a little more grateful for the people that made me happy was essential in bettering my Yale experience. Grateful for friends who drag me outside during the first snowfall of the year, catching flakes with our outstretched tongues, for friends that make music videos with me, dancing away our finals stress, for friends that mimic the way I say eggs and make fun of my love for the Central Limit Theorem, for friends who walk across town with me, for lobster rolls, for friends that laugh, cry and sing with me and remind me that maybe Yale isn’t so bad after all if it caused me to meet such wonderful people and create a few moments of pure joy.
There are days where I have trouble getting out of bed and days I wish I had gone to school somewhere else and days where the tears don’t stop streaming. But there is comfort knowing that I will not feel like this forever and that I can seek out comfort if I just look around me. If I felt like this, others definitely do, too.
Beginnings are a good place to reflect, but don’t let the New Year, the new semester, be the only time for resolutions and life improvements. Use this shopping period to pick classes that are more than useful and interesting, ones that you would never take normally. Use a random weekend to do something spontaneous outside campus’s perimeter. Maybe even use reading week to make resolutions for next semester (a great way to procrastinate for finals, too.) There will always be, and should be, time for you to reflect and think about how you can create a college experience you won’t regret. Don’t waste it.
Hala El Solh is a junior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .