I’ve always liked to be in control. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always taken immense comfort in knowing exactly what will come next. I disliked going to places I’d never been before because I didn’t know what to expect. I resented meeting new people because I didn’t know how I’d be perceived. I hated summers because they broke the predictable routine that school provided. At Yale, this phenomenon is — to say the least — pervasive. All of us on this campus need to strive to let things run their course, to relinquish the control that we hold so dear.
In short, I’m a perfectionist. I like everything being exactly as I imagine it to be in my mind. I like when things go according to a preconceived plan, leaving no room for error or change. Sometimes this is what drives me. My tendency to strive toward what I see as perfect — the ideal course of events in my head — is arguably what got me, and most other students, into an institution like Yale. I was able to determine a long-term goal, imagine the steps which would allow me to achieve that goal, then do it. In fighting any source of variability within my life, I was able to hone in on the goals I had.
But the fact that this fixation on things going as planned is what got so many of us into Yale should give us pause. Indeed, this perfectionism is the exact thing that pulls me out of moments in which I should be grounded. I will be with friends or family and as opposed to concentrating on being there with them, I begin to think of all the things that could go wrong and what I would do to remedy them. What serves us in academic environments may fail to do so in so many other areas of our lives.
Friends from my hometown came to visit me this past weekend. I was beyond excited to introduce my friends from home to my friends here. I had already imagined who would tell embarrassing high school stories and what we’d do. Yet, once we were all together, I couldn’t focus. My mind kept racing. I was thinking of everything except what was going on right in front of me. Rather than be focused on the present, I was transfixed on a singular thought: what if things didn’t go according to plan?
The desire for things to go smoothly is natural. Nobody wants anything to go awry. This is even more true in campus culture. We plan our days from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, making sure every moment is accounted for. This is amazing in that it cultivates discipline. The act of making sure you’re being as productive as possible throughout the day is a direct step in pursuing success. But the inability to embrace variability in life hinders growth. Not being able to accept and grow accustomed to the unfamiliar allows for a very lackluster existence.
It is natural to stick to what seems to work academically in all other parts of our lives, but Yale’s campus invites exploration, giving us so many opportunities to break out of our own perfectionist tendencies. Beyond the classes, the wide array of extracurriculars, events and people to meet is what makes the four years we spend here so pivotal.
I’ve always found myself stuck in my own head. Yet in realizing that doing so has begun to obstruct my ability to learn and grow, I’ve made a conscious decision to focus on the moment in front of me. Instead of placing the responsibility on myself to make sure things go according to plan, I’m going to allow things to run their course. Instead of pursuing what I think seems to be the “perfect” route, I’m going to do what feels right to me.
It is a waste to pursue a lifestyle for ourselves if it is based on inauthentic perceptions of what is ideal. Life does not have to be the product of fixed plans. If we let some things occur a little unexpectedly, we might just gain some much-needed perspective.
LEILA JACKSON is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .