Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had to spend some time in medical school before realizing that she wanted to be a writer. I think about her idea a lot that one’s life can head in so many different directions. Like a novel that jumps back and forth in time, life doesn’t progress in a linear way. At Yale, we need to be less fearful of changing course and of the one-eighties that may make our lives that much more meaningful.
I often find myself worrying that I will make the “wrong” choice. Of course, this feeling is compounded as a senior, trying to figure out what the years after college might hold. I spent months of the summer editing an application for graduate school programs in English only to realize this fall that I didn’t know if I really wanted to go to graduate school right after college.
I felt frustrated at my own uncertainty as I watched classmates and friends accept offers at consulting firms and perfect their applications for PhD programs, law school or medical school. I’ve spent a lot of time in college feeling uncertain about the path I want to take and feeling uncomfortable about that uncertainty.
At the beginning of this year, I felt upset with myself for spending time on applications that I ultimately wasn’t going to pursue. If I wasn’t going to graduate school right after college, why had I wasted time writing essays and perusing websites? The clock was ticking.
A few days ago, I spent over an hour staring at a blank Google doc on my laptop, trying to revise a short story I’ve been writing for a class. Why weren’t the words coming to me? I stared at the numbers at the upper right hand corner of my laptop screen: 12:52 a.m. Time kept pulsing on. Nothing is worse than the feeling that time is being wasted.
As students here, we often worry about how to spend our time. We schedule out our days precisely — every lunch, every essay, every p-set, every coffee meet-up, every Netflix binge session. We feel an ache when we’ve wasted time, wondering what else we could’ve accomplished in that hour or afternoon or day. This all stems from our fear of making the wrong move — of wasting time doing something that’s not on the path we envision for ourselves.
A few Saturdays ago, I went with my friend to the farmer’s market. We walked slowly through the market, looking at the vast assortment of foods and watching kids run around, chasing their dogs. Not wanting the afternoon to end, we went to a diner nearby. I’d already eaten a grilled cheese sandwich at the market, so I wasn’t too hungry. I got a coffee; my friend ordered eggs and pancakes. We sat in the diner, talking about how we both wanted to write, how we didn’t know what shape that would take, how uncertain we felt about the vision of our futures. For just a moment, we lost ourselves in time “wasted,” we let ourselves contemplate and reflect.
I went back to my dorm room that afternoon, confronted with a flurry of thoughts about what I could be doing, what I should be doing. I returned to the blank Google doc where I was supposed to write another version of my story. Now, I had a plan. I opened the document with all the essays I’d written for potential graduate programs. I closed all of the tabs and got to work.
We can all find the time to indulge in opportunities that feel like deviations from our self-prescribed paths — things you might not pursue for the rest of your life, but that bring you joy or clarity. I only started auditioning for shows last semester as a second semester junior. I wanted to act because it made me feel freer. And although I’m likely not going to pursue acting after college, it doesn’t feel like a deviation from the trajectory of my life. It feels like a necessary movement, a part of the natural flow of my nonlinear existence.
The time that feels wasted might not be wasted at all. I spent weeks writing essays for graduate programs that I will not attend the year after I graduate. Although it feels easy to me to see all that time as a waste, I can also see it as an opportunity for reflection. I will look back at and draw from those essays later. The ideas I jotted down there will resurface sometime, in ways that maybe I can’t see now.
When I inevitably return to the blank page to try to pen a new version of my short story that feels right, I might sit there again for hours, seeming not to make any progress. But I’ll be thinking about my characters in my mind and the arcs of their lives. Even if those details don’t make it on the page in the way I want right now, I know that eventually, the story will unfold as it’s meant to.
The clock is ticking, but deadlines aren’t endings. They’re just stopping points for now. And — luckily — there is time to start again.
Meghana Mysore is a senior in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at email@example.com .