Note: This post was drafted on March 20, 2013. An addendum was added and it was published on May 29, 2013.
Lately I’ve been having dreams where I mess up very mundane things. I get a 16/20 on one of my two-page writing assignments in one of my classes. I realize that I forgot to order the college-wide study break just as it’s scheduled to begin. I can’t articulate my order well or loudly enough at Late Meal and the guy behind the counter gets mad at me. And in my dreams I hang my head and feel dejected and guilty. I get frustrated with myself.
In my waking life, are things so different? I didn’t get a summer grant I applied for, and I didn’t get into the study abroad program I wanted. I’m convinced my mom likes my dog better than she likes me. I feel like I should have constructive, engaging summer plans, but I don’t. I’m very behind on one of my classes and I don’t even know if I want to keep taking it. I feel like I haven’t been open to meeting new people and haven’t been maintaining my friendships well. I’ve found myself apologizing often, so much so that “sorry” has become as common in my vernacular as “thank you” or “excuse me.” I’m fixated on how the right side of my face is at least a couple of millimeters lower than my left.
I could easily attribute this all to Vitamin-D deficiency, seasonal affective disorder, PMS, or any of the other likely culprits that might explain these admittedly self-loathing thoughts. But I can’t help but wonder, am I living my life right? Am I doing these four college years right?
Well, I have to ask myself, what do you mean by “right”?
Does “right” mean what makes you happy?
Does “right” mean what is going to lead to a successful career? Employment?
Does it mean what other people want to do?
Does it mean what other people want you to do?
I think the easy, utopian answer is “yes” to the first and “no” to the last three. It’s easy to say that what’s “right” is doing what makes you happy, ignoring everything else, and trusting that it’ll lead you to satisfaction. Easier said than done. As someone who doesn’t take a weekend trip without first making an itinerary, that sounds terrifying. This idea reminds me of how the residential college deans encouraged us as freshman to take courses in a variety of departments to explore our options. They also tell us to “Study what you love!” Again, easier said than done. If I take courses in all different departments, I might find out what I love studying, but depending on how long it takes me to discover it, how much time is even left for me to excel at it?
Freshman year, I took courses in all different departments. Excluding freshman seminars and writing sem, I took classes in the following departments: Architecture, Psych, Chinese, Mol Bio and Econ. Last summer, I took an Anthropology class, and this year I’ve taken classes in Engineering (Social Entrepreneurship), Chinese, Anthropology, Creative Writing, East Asian Studies, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, English, and Sociology. (Side note: please friend me/accept my friend request on ICE) And while I did gain some valuable insight on what I didn’t want to study, I feel like exploring for a quarter of my academic career has cut me off from the possibility of being better. For example, that year and a half I spent learning Chinese? What if I had spent it on perfecting my French? I should have applied for a Creative Writing class freshman year. I should have tried my hand at poetry this semester instead of fiction. I like my EEB class a lot right now. What if I like that better than Anthro? Do I like Anthro enough to major in it?
By now, you might be thinking the same thing as I am: Stop. You might be thinking that because, well, who wants to read other people’s desperate, reflective internal monologue? For me, though, I’m telling myself to stop because there’s nothing I can do about it. I could’ve/would’ve/should’ve done so may different things, but the only way I know that is because I’ve already gone through these past experiences and could only have gained the knowledge that I have now by doing so.
Addendum: I wrote the above post a while ago, apparently at 11:40 PM on March 20. I don’t really remember what prompted it, but I was on spring break and I was probably thinking about life and getting stressed out, I don’t know.
But since then, I’ve made summer plans that I’m really excited about. I think I ended my sophomore year well overall. I kept taking that class I was behind in and I did well in it. I realized that not getting into my study abroad program was a good thing, because I don’t want to go abroad during the school year. I made a conscious effort not to use apologetic language all the time. My parents still like my dog better than me and my face still looks crooked on iPhone selfie mode, but ya can’t win ’em all. My dreams haven’t been as stressful–although last night I did have one where I couldn’t figure out what kind of cigarette to buy to put in an e-cigarette. I don’t even think that’s how those things work. I also dreamt that I ran into one of my classmates from my English class this semester at the mall, where he was bleaching his hair for a theme night at TI. He told me that the reason I didn’t have fun when I went out (which isn’t necessarily always true) was because I didn’t open up to other people.
So here, take this post. Here’s me opening up to you about things I was worried abut two months ago and will probably be worried about again. Maybe you will too. Then we’ll all remember that an experience only becomes a “regret” or a “mistake” if you don’t learn something valuable from it. (Or if you really fuck up and commit a felony or injure some one/yourself but let’s not go down that road. But actually maybe you’d even learn something way down that road.) I’d also rather over-experience than under-experience. Meaning, I’d rather get involved in a lot of things and taking the chance of not liking the things I’m involved in (shout out to the Sailing Team, removing me from your listserv was cold) than let the opportunity pass me by and be left wondering what it could’ve been like. You’re never not going to wonder what the negative film of your life could have been like, if you had made totally different choices. But think about how many more could’ve/would’ve/should’ve’s you’d have if you never made any new choices at all?