There are few states of existence more natural for the average Yale student than the state of “busyness.” Whether it is week seven, three or one of the semester, the most innocuous inquiries about a Yale student’s well-being will often invite such answers as “so busy,” “unbelievably stressed” and “so unbelievably encumbered by the crushing weight of the cosmos — symbolized by a math PSET.” Even Atlas seems to pale in comparison to some STEM majors.
I’m convinced that some students lie in wait on Prospect and Wall Street, deliberately contorting their faces into expressions of defeat to solicit such unwitting questions as “How are you?” from a simple-minded passerby. They need little more than the twitch of an eyebrow to release the low, guttural moan they’ve been holding in, one whose length, they avow, is proportional to their prolonged academic suffering. Next, they launch into vivid descriptions of their laundry list of academic and non-academic obligations. By this point, the passerby is nowhere to be found, having jumped into a bush and hidden beneath a canopy of leaves or slipped away after the third repetition of the phrase “the grind.”
My penchant for satire aside, much campus discourse at Yale is saturated with the language of busyness. Students perennially complain about being spread too thin and are as burdened by their readings as they are by their rehearsals, by pieces of poetry they hope to publish, by deliberations for sorority rush, by lab research and by their weekly radio shows.
Admittedly, there is much truth to this complaint of “busyness.” I would be remiss not to admit that Yale students are both fastidious and widely talented, and they take their academic and extracurricular obligations equally seriously. It is one of the things that inspires me most about my classmates. It is also true that a constant striving for excellence in all realms can be exhausting.
But behind self-descriptions of running from meeting to meeting, the language of obligation and overcommitment and the corporate sense of your life being “overscheduled,” lurk the connotation that the things we do here are a burden, and the pursuit of knowledge and the self-edification of extracurriculars is cumbersome, a daily chore.
As a second-semester senior, I often dwell on what I will miss about this school when I graduate — the abundance of friendships, Tuesday-night horror movies, weekend retreats, the morning we spent sitting by the lake talking about climbing trees, drunken Wenzels, cocktail discourse, all the dancing, roast beef toast and the sheer strangeness of it all. Not much has changed since my first day on campus. I have always been a creature of nostalgia. Only recently have I begun to reflect on the joys of being a student. Never again will it be my responsibility to sit and bask in dazzling ideas, to think about corporal politics and zombification, peroxidases in the abstract, mimesis and Alyosha Karamazov and Proust.
A majority of us will enter desk jobs as soon as we graduate. I will leave invectives about consulting to the idealists and those with fewer conflicts of interest. But whether you want to be a scribe, a journalist, a paralegal or a banker, the marketing director of an NGO or a PhD student, you will spend much of your day sitting at the same desk in the same office building, endlessly typing away at a laptop. Even if you find the most existentially fulfilling job in the world and are paid to contemplate scintillating, stirring ideas, your daily life will never be as varied as it is today. You will never again be an economist and a historian, a biologist and a literary critic over the course of a single day; your daily routine will never again span four buildings and 14 dining halls. We move from campus to cubicle. It is the way of life.
Even the luxury of being “stressed” by a cappella elections, the need to socially engineer your improv group’s retreat activities, hours of writing and editing and writing for your college newspaper, three-hour-long presentations detailing the story of your life to people you’ve come to love and who love you back — all these stressors shall diminish in time, variety and in the joy they provide. If one of these activities remains in your life after college, it will probably do so at the expense of the rest.
This is not to proclaim that life after college is dystopian or that graduation marks your entry into the unending drudgery of late-stage capitalism, with the only respite being the dwindling possibility of love — assuming it, too, does not become commodified by the time we are in our mid-twenties. In some ways, life after college might be freer, easier. We might have our weekends to ourselves. The work day might end when the work day ends. And yet, it will never again be college. It is not my hope to invalidate the experience of busyness, but simply to reframe it.
Like Tomáš in Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” we must grapple with the absence of any Nietzschean eternal recurrence or recurrence at all. Once our time at Yale is up, it is up forever. There is no way to get back these years or hope they will persist ad infinitum; thus the “lightness” of being that Kundera describes. Without the “heaviness” of our choices reverberating through time for all eternity, we are forced to appreciate how ephemeral our Yale years are, and we are compelled to find new ways to imbue our choices with gravity and meaning. It is an unwavering commitment to the things we do, in spite of their impermanence, that can serve this function.
Let us revel in the lightness of being, even in the lightness of being busy. Bask in the chaos, the abundance, the diversity of things you do here. Find joy in the long, guttural moans and the cosmic burden of the 300-word reading responses. You will miss them someday.
PRADZ SAPRE is a senior in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and the Humanities. His fortnightly column “Growing pains” encapsulates the difficulties of a metaphorical “growing up” within the course of a lifetime at Yale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.