Since my junior year of high school, I have had a habit of drawing triangles. Whether I’m bored in class; stressed about life; or happy and just want to relax, I can cover sheets upon sheets of paper with this simple geometric shape. They aren’t fancy — just straight lines of triangles in all different sizes, fitting together like a puzzle of sorts. They don’t have shading, they don’t have different colors, they’re just … plain. Over the years, they’ve come to cover everything I own — filling in the gaps in my composition notebook, decorating my debate flows and for a while, the henna tattoos on my hands. Three years deep, I think I can say with some confidence that I can draw a perfectly straight triangle. But nothing else.
Last semester, I opened up my bag and my journal tumbled out, covered in, you guessed it, triangles. My friend gasped. “Rabhya!” she said, “I didn’t know you were an artist.” I looked at her in surprise, mostly because this statement is factually false. Despite my desires, I have no natural affinity for painting, drawing, sculpting or anything in the physical arts. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll doodle intricate patterns with lines and dots, but frankly, it’s child’s play.
I wondered why her statement bothered me so much. After all, wasn’t it a compliment? I then realized that it was the underlying expectation that disturbed me: the expectation of success. We pressure ourselves to excel in every aspect of our lives: academic, social and even extracurricular (which, mind you, is supposed to be a break from academics). We view every realm of our lives as an area to excel. The motto goes “If you’re not the best, why even bother?”
That logic drives us to do activities that we’re good at, rather than what we actually enjoy. In a more twisted version of this, some of us believe that we enjoy certain activities solely because we are good at them. Part of this is perpetuated by the exclusive nature of clubs at Yale — you can’t try a new activity if you’re not competitive enough to make it in. Part of this is the desire to not waste our talents, to continue pursuing what we’re good at. Part of this is our fear of the unknown. But the main question underlying all of this is: How will this advance my future goals?
Many of us would do well to remember that the present is worth living for. An activity that you’re mediocre at but genuinely enjoy can provide something far more important than a resume boost — the intellectual rigor of trying something new, a space separate from the competitive demands of the everyday. I happen to find (extremely basic) drawing and painting enjoyable. Even if I’m not naturally adept at it, drawing has helped me become better able to express my emotions through art. It contributes something meaningful to my life. Why can’t we accept that there are some things that we will do solely for personal enjoyment and growth, rather than skill and future accomplishments?
One of my favorite hobbies is decorating my collage board. I first made it in ninth grade with my father, melding a four-by-six cork board with a frame that we built ourselves from crown molding before spray-painting it silver. Every month in high school (and now during college breaks), I create and hang massive collages, using clippings from magazines and everyday trinkets such as advertisements, fabrics and earrings. Over time, I’ve organized a proper collection and have hundreds of files sorting various materials. The collages initially reflected whatever aesthetics I liked but have since evolved into something deeper, displaying my dreams and what (or whom) I find inspirational, as well as what I believe my identity encompasses. Six years later, it’s something I still love to do.
My collages aren’t going to change the world, help me get a job, win any trophies or earn me social status. In this way, it is fundamentally different from almost everything I do, and that’s why the collages are special: They’re for me and me only. Arranging parts into a larger whole brings me joy, helping me discover new corners of myself along the way.
So whether you’re a bright-eyed first year at the extracurricular bazaar or a nostalgic senior wrapping up your time here, take a moment when you’re deciding how to spend your remaining time at Yale. Don’t be afraid to schedule hours to just draw triangles aimlessly, create collages or whatever might bring you joy and personal growth. Prioritizing your happiness might be the best extracurricular you choose here.
Rabhya Mehrotra is a sophomore in Morse College. Her column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .