At Yale, the days go slow and the weeks go fast. In my memory, stretches of time blur together, each one hardly distinguishable from the other. Such is the nature of a routine centered around competing deadlines — submitting assignments, attending club meetings, preparing for events and squeezing in meals with friends.
Perhaps this is the way college life is, but it certainly isn’t what it should be. The perpetual focus on achieving in the short run compounds a fear of reevaluation; we are afraid of confronting doubts and making changes. We set a goal for ourselves, work towards it, achieve it (or not) and move on to the next one; it’s the same cycle on repeat.
Fortunately, even when we don’t have the courage to confront how we live, Yale has built in opportunities for us to do so through breaks. Tonight marks the beginning of October break, a chance to remove ourselves from the pressure to continuously be doing. And perhaps more than that, it provides freedom to reconnect with the meaningful and satisfying people, places and pursuits in our lives. We have time to bring focus back to who we truly are, the most important asset we can carry with us in a nonstop environment where it’s too convenient to convince ourselves, “I’m doing alright.”
I didn’t realize how needed this break was until I reflected on my year thus far. I was struck by how short I’ve fallen in achieving the personal goals I had set for myself entering college. For instance, to expose myself to a wider range of subjects and interests, I aimed to attend at least one speaker event per week; to date, I’ve gone to one in total. There are numerous other examples. Through them all, I recognized that I wasn’t meeting my goals. Nonetheless, I chose not to change anything about my schedule, even when time was strained but still manageable.
The hard truth is that I became complacent and convenience got the best of me. When I noticed I wasn’t meeting my standards, I persuaded myself that meeting personal goals was less significant than guaranteeing short-term academic success. This is likely tied in some part to an issue prevalent across Yale: fear of failure. I justified and rationalized my decisions in an effort to convince myself that I did not fall short, and even if I did, it wasn’t really failure at all — I was just doing what I needed to do.
This attitude may seem inconsequential, but it can actually cause tremendous pain to ourselves and others. Just yesterday, a friend of mine confided in me about serious relationship issues, and, after some discussion, I asked him what he was going to do. His reply: “I don’t know… focus on midterms.” Too often, we distract ourselves from even approaching issues because of our aversion to making changes and the prospect of confronting failure. We are then left with gaping deficiencies in critical aspects of our lives, and worse outcomes ensue.
Of course, not following through on everything we set out to do isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, what’s problematic is that instead of making conscious decisions to acknowledge our limitations or changes in our attitudes, we avoid making decisions at all. We are content with the status quo, preferring to continue on a comfortable and uncluttered autopilot. This way of living promotes excuses and undermines what we previously regarded as important in favor of a present-heavy focus. Only by considering whether to maintain or to move on from past commitments can we take an active role in our growth and development. Striking a balance is difficult, but we can all at least make conscious choices to maintain our situations or change them.
The slow days lead us to look for short-term relief, generally in the form of social media and Netflix. Though these certainly have their place — we should ensure we take time for ourselves to recharge — they shouldn’t obscure the importance of continuing to self-reflect in our private time. The weeks pass quickly, and all too often we end up not doing the things we want. This can be resolved by taking small breaks, even brief ones, during the school year to reflect. These breaks can consist of journaling, going on a walk or sitting outside. In simply allowing thoughts to pass unfiltered through our heads, we can segue into confronting how we live and if we are truly satisfied with our current selves.
With October break, measured not in minutes but in days, we have ample time to get away from school and engage with ourselves. Appreciate it, because it’s more than just a time to stop thinking and simply enjoy. It’s an opportunity to tie up loose ends and recalibrate our attitudes away from the subconscious pressures and worries that force us into becoming nearsighted machines. When we use and value our breaks properly, we gain something special: a greater contentedness with the direction of our lives.
EDWARD SEOL is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact him at email@example.com .