Dora Guo

Taking time off felt like dropping myself into limbo. As someone who is, for better or worse, definitively type-A and attaches outsized significance to institutions and organizations, I should have known that temporary disaffiliation from the all-encompassing “Yale student” identity would feel like going down a rabbit hole. All of a sudden I had to redefine what exactly it was that I spent my time “doing.” And since “doing” had always subliminally been equated with “being,” I also felt like I was being asked to redefine who I was. I oscillated between wanting to do everything and nothing.

This choice was both liberating and terrifying. I had, in one fell swoop, pressed Ctrl-Alt-Delete on all my academic obligations for the next four months. With my calendar wide open, I could do anything I wanted. No discussion question postings on Canvas, 9:25 a.m. Zooms, or sections where no one else turns their camera on and you feel bad for the TA but it’s too late to backtrack anyways so you sit there feeling super awkward and conscious of being virtually perceived. No one to keep you accountable except for yourself. I worked, but work lends a different kind of expectation and cadence: one fueled by consistency, not sporadic urgency. Discipline, not adrenaline. I realized I hadn’t quite developed those muscles before. 

I realized that the college student lifestyle — one where we rely on short bursts of intense inspiration, one where sparkle is enough to excuse slip-ups — does not translate equally well into other contexts. One of my jobs taught me that I want to own my work product. Another has taught me that I crave feedback and hands-on mentorship. It became very clear to me that I am happiest when working within teams, pushed to grow, and when my intellectual development is inherently intertwined with some form of external accountability. 

And now, it’s May. So what else have I learned, exactly? A couple things. That people love me independently of the institutions I am attached to and the achievements I pursue. That I love being a Yale student. That I took for granted Yale’s role in pushing me to grow intellectually. That I’m less intrinsically motivated than I believed, my tolerance for mess and challenge are perhaps not quite what I thought it was. But also, that there is unbelievable freedom in life. That we are free to make almost any choice, provided we are willing to accept its consequences. I realized that staying enrolled, that working towards graduation, that deciding to graduate at all … all of these are choices we make, no matter how inevitable they might feel now that we’ve started our Yale journeys. That there is nothing mundane about attending Yale, that it is a privilege in and of itself.

Taking time off was sometimes hard and largely disorienting. Unmooring myself from a stable foundation with which I had grown accustomed and adding confusion to a strange, strange year. But it’s good to go on adventures. To define and redefine who we understand ourselves to be. With my time away from Yale coming to an end, I’m realizing how linear time is, how the decisions we make are our own to accept, and how the stories we tell ourselves give shape to the days that we live. Yale and I were on a semester-long break, but we’ll be back together and better than ever this fall. I’m learning how to navigate distance from, and in proximity to, this strange, beautiful, irreplicable place.