Post-Freshman Year Musings
I stood on the beach, hands pocketed, the brisk Pacific wind challenging my balance. Feet firmly planted in the sand, I realized I hadn’t been to this spot since the very first day I had arrived on campus for my freshman year of college. But here I stood, surrounded by friends, well into a night of debauchery following our final exams. We were all heading home the next day, and as I looked up into the lucid morning sky, a shooting star exploded across my gaze. It was there and gone so fast I figured my eyes were playing tricks on me. How relevant, I thought: there for one second, gone the next. Nearly nine months had passed since I last stood on that beach, though it felt as if no more time had passed than that of a shooting star’s lifespan.
Time is constant. Each minute is the exact length of the previous. The same goes for each hour, each day, each year. So why this phenomenon of the good times passing in a speedy blur while dark times seem to linger? I believe the answer is actually pretty simple.
Whether it’s for two hours or two years or two decades, happiness comes and goes for everyone. It’s the natural rollercoaster of life. But I believe we find ourselves at our happiest when we aren’t focused on the past or the future, but on the present. You can’t sit there and stressfully overanalyze a present moment like you can your future or past. And while you can reflect on the past, you can’t reflect on the present. It’s impossible. The only thing we can do with the present is let it happen and hopefully enjoy it.
It’s during the low points on the rollercoaster that we find ourselves wanting to be anywhere but the present. We try to escape by thinking about happy times in the past, or things we’re looking forward to down the road. Time moves on at its constant rate yet each second seems to pass like the movement of a snail as we wish our life away. But that’s just part of the journey. Our sense of time is ever-changing, and it’s the lows that make the highs.
It’s all about finding that happy medium amongst our focus on the past, present, and future. It’s good to look at the past. In reflection we find significance. We learn. We give meaning to what we’ve been through. Thinking about our future, we give our life a direction, and from this, a sense of confidence in knowing where we’re possibly headed. But don’t forget about the present.
We college students so easily get caught up thinking about our futures, worrying about the past, or blindly surviving each passing day in a robot-like manner. We forget to take in and enjoy certain present moments that deserve a specific significance. We miss things. Our lives are only going to get busier, and time is only going to move faster. This first year went by in a flash; I’m sure most of my fellow students would agree. The next three are only going to be faster, and before we know it, it’ll be done and dusted. The past and future only exist in our head, our thoughts, but the present exists in our actions.
I think this is all just a very long-winded attempt at reiterating the old cliché phrase “carpe diem.” If your experience was anything like mine, you came into freshman year with this grand scheme of branching off from what you’ve been doing in life up to that point and trying all kinds of new and different things. I wanted to learn to surf, join a band, go backpacking, and the list goes on. And then classes started and I found myself locked in a routine. Then it was Christmas break. Then it was spring break. Then the year was gone. And this isn’t to say I didn’t do many new things this year; I did, and I loved it. But I wish I had done more. Of course, there’s not enough time in the world to do everything we’d ever want to do. But don’t become so comfortable in that routine that you turn down opportunities.
A personal example: during winter quarter (my school is on the quarter system) I was taking a decently heavy class load and found myself in a religious pattern of going to library from 8pm to midnight. I continued this throughout the quarter, studied hard, and my grades turned out well. When spring quarter rolled around, I had fewer classes. My workload was cut in half (maybe even more than half), yet I still found myself in the library from 8pm to midnight because I was so used to that pattern; I felt like I was slacking if I didn’t continue. I would study less efficiently in an effort to fill my 4-hour block of allotted time. I would turn down invitations to go do things with friends because I didn’t want to break from my “study” routine. So while it’s very possible that I’m just an antisocial nerd who likes sitting alone in libraries, I looked back on all the wasted time and was disappointed in myself for not seizing missed opportunities.
Studying is obviously important. But it’s also easy to use the “sorry, I have to study” excuse to escape from the uncomfortable situation of trying something new, of which college holds plenty. But it’s important to leave our comfort zone and seize these opportunities while we still have time (aka while we’re in college). It’s easy to put things off for another day. But that day becomes a week, a month, and so on. There’s no time like the present. Use it.
It’s really only now that I’ll begin to fully appreciate my first year of college as a whole. When it was happening, I wasn’t focused on the overall significance of what was going on; I was just letting the year pass. There were lows and there were highs, but in the end, it was all an amazing blur. A blur that I’ll sit back and reflect on, learn from, and be proud of. I hope all of my fellow no-longer-freshmen can look back at the year with a smile on their faces as well.
“Four days will quickly steep themselves into nights; Four nights will quickly dream away the time.” – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream