“When I was four years old, I was obsessed with trains.”
It was with these words, gingerly plucked from an infinite reservoir of English locutions, that I began my Common App essay.
A few weeks ago at 12:37 a.m., I sat on the hardwood floor of my suite, exchanging Common Apps with a friend. It dawned on me that it had been a year since I had written what I then considered to be the most important piece I would ever write.
Seven ideas, five drafts, three opinions and one voice coalesced to produce the final result. And yet, I can still see the furious red underlines and strikethroughs, the self-doubt, the unhealthy stress that lurks behind the facade of lyrical cadences, internal rhymes and assonances.
In many ways, my Common App is the perfect representation of life before Yale, a life that existed only in superlatives. I lived in a world of heightened significance, one in which the triumph of every success was amplified, and the tragedy of every misstep was exacerbated by the prospect of where I am now — college. I was busier than I have ever been, but every action seemed significant, directly leading me to the culmination of years of work, propelling me in the direction I had envisioned for myself.
Fast forward a pandemic, the uncertainty of whether my ‘magical’ first semester would be conducted from my childhood bedroom, 10 canceled tickets, compressed goodbyes, half a semester, and here I am.
At the midpoint of my first semester, as I reflect on the torrent of time into which six weeks were sucked, I can confidently say that Yale was everything I imagined and more. Wonderful classes, wonderful people and experiences so wonderful that my internal thesaurus cannot seem to conjure any other words to describe them. And yet, the joy of life at Yale is somewhat darkened in the looming shadow of the happiness I felt a year ago.
Describing my senior year as a happy time may seem delusional. Permanent panic is not a recommended recipe for healthy satisfaction. But despite the all-nighters, the bated breath and the lost time, I spurred on in my indefatigable pursuits towards my romanticized notion of college. I basked in the glow of my premature perceptions, thinking, “Oh when I get into college, it’ll all have been worth it.” My happiness felt momentous, well-deserved, stemming from the journey I undertook to achieve my life’s goals.
Joy at Yale, however, means something very different from the joy I experienced a year ago. Joy at Yale means drinking in the sound of my friends’ laughter, savoring the taste of chicken tenders from the dining hall, relishing the sight of Cross Campus on a sunny afternoon.
Reveling in these simple pleasures is certainly necessary, but as I reflect on the year gone by, experiencing joy that is not fueled by the urgent panic of approaching my life’s culmination seems empty, almost impermanent. At times, the joy is marred by the creeping thought that there is nothing left to look forward to, that I have peaked — and even scarier — I will never again find the motivation that I mustered to get me here.
I know I am not alone in this quandary. I know I am not alone in holding myself to this distorted standard of productivity that is directly correlated to my previous threshold of joy.
It is this collective perception of Yale as the exemplification of all hopes and dreams that is dangerous. It doesn’t matter how close f(x) = Yale approaches the asymptote of perfection. With paradise as an asymptotic standard, fulfillment will always be tantalizingly far away. Twenty-four hours in a day will never be enough to live my best life, both academically and socially, and attain personal growth in the process.
I have only recently discovered — in the cliched words of my friends, mentors, teachers — that “Yale is a microcosm of life.” At Yale, we are faced with an abundance of opportunities and the freedom to choose. Finding the motivation to get into Yale was the easy part. Now that I am here, confronted by the endless possibilities of a dynamic future, I will not find the same kind of single-minded motivation I found a year ago. I will not have the same yardstick for happiness I always relied on. I will have to find what motivates me.
But that is precisely why I am here. Not to gain pleasure from achieving a singular, long-term goal, but to find joy in the intoxicating taste of freedom and the notion of being in paradise.
I will resign myself to revelling in simpler pleasures — grabbing a Nutella latte at Koffee with a K, a Spotify playlist, a successful midterm, a care package dropped off by a friend during the week of said midterm. And while these pleasures may seem trivial, never matching up to the gratification of achieving all my life’s goals, they do not have to.
By finding happiness in these, I will open myself up to joy I never imagined I could. I hope you will too.
PRADZ SAPRE is a first year in Benjamin Franklin college. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.