It’s the middle of the semester. Spring break is in two weeks. Four papers turned in, five more to go, six News columns written and it finally hit me — oh, it hit me — the dreaded burnout. It’s that time in every Yalie’s life when papers are harder to write and problem sets are harder to get through. There are no longer spacious gaps in our GCals and our emails are overflowing with event reminders. Our classes slowly morph into what feels like a chore, rather than a playground for exploring our interests and challenging our beliefs. We all face this exhaustion at some point in our college careers.
But burnout is even more than being mentally, physically and emotionally drained. Oftentimes, we forget our sense of purpose because we are too busy worrying about completing the tasks on our long and drawn-out checklists. The value of completing each problem set becomes less apparent, and even more obscure than the equations being solved. Maybe we decide to write the safer essay instead of one that is intellectually stimulating, but more complex and time consuming. Perhaps we are only exerting the required level of effort, because there’s so much to do and so little time to do it!
Breathe. Around this time of the semester, Yale students get so wrapped up in their midterms and extracurricular activities that it can seem like we’re just going through the motions. But — even during such a stressful time — we ought to rediscover our purpose for being here to begin with.
This rediscovery can be found in rest. If we take an hour, or maybe two, to step back from our responsibilities, we can restore the purpose within them. In just a little over a week, I’ll be heading home for what I hope will be a restful break. Across from my bedroom is a parallel universe — where my sense of purpose is reignited. A whole world of imagination and fun. There are multitudes of little squeaky voices and many characters that come to life. This amazing universe was created by a 9-year-old.
My little sister has managed to construct her own utopia with tiny fearless characters that stand strong in every scenario. I listen to the voices of her toys as they conquer hardships triumphantly. I am captivated by her bravery as she transforms into a superhero nightly, saving the Barbies and Disney princesses of her world. She can build a skyscraper with Legos or a fort with pillows. Her bunk bed transforms into a kingdom or castle. Her imagination is limitless, and in these moments, she can be whoever she chooses and go as far as she wishes. She knows her purpose and inspires me to revive mine.
When I think about how free-spirited her approach to life is, I suddenly remember that I, too, am imagining an alternate world here at Yale. Although she’s nearly a decade younger than me, her invention and creativity continuously remind me to embrace the future world with wonder. From her — and other similarly small children — we learn not only to believe in the impossible, but to be optimistic about a reality that we can’t see.
This is our purpose, and the reason we are all here. We all desire to shape the world in the way we idealize it. Every day, I envision a world in which my brown skin doesn’t define my social standing. I imagine a society where politicians perceive universal healthcare and climate change as communal matters, and not partisan problems. When we lose ourselves and the motivation to be the overachievers we are, we need to remember that we are the next generation of world leaders, constructing the world we all inhabit. This imaginative capacity is natural for children, but as we grow older we become disheartened by the world’s grim reality. We begin to teach ourselves that changing the world is not a possibility, or too big to conceive practically. But we must restore our hope in the way society can be, not the way it is.
I know it can be difficult to look at the big picture, but sometimes it’s best to look at the entire puzzle and not just its individual pieces. As you turn in your reading responses, write those essays and knock out your last assignments, remember the purpose you have in this world. The work we are doing is important, even when we are exhausted beyond belief. Rediscover your purpose and find new meaning as you finish up your midterms and papers. Leave the Yale bubble for a few hours and reminisce on why you chose to come here in the first place. Revive that child-like imagination — but above all, take a break!
ZAPORAH PRICE is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .