My planner is packed, and it’s one of my biggest crutches. I would argue that everything inside is technically important because I can’t miss that meeting and I can’t forget that event. But when I stop and breathe, I slowly realize something, and only now in my last quarter at Stanford. I’ve been squeezing productivity like pulp from every hour and dropping much larger concerns. For four frenzied years, I’ve been researching corruption in Italian government, the nuclear situation in Northeast Asia and religious neo-colonialism in Africa. But only recently did I realize that it’s the middle of May, and I haven’t yet responded to my grandfather’s email — the brief, but really loving one he sent me, in January. This is not my idea of good time management; I’m afraid of the girl letting this happen.
This may be college, but we have peers saying, “I don’t know who I’m becoming anymore.” This is the pilot for the mid-life crisis threatening us 20 years from now. Melodramatic, but I’m serious. Already, in this supposedly non-“real world” world, lists and lists of things to do threaten to blur our bigger picture, at which point we ask, “Wait, what the hell am I doing this for?” It’s an issue of accidental worship, in which we idolize things we never meant to, and lose track of what we most meant to pursue. Micro versus macro; we don’t need to graduate to see the tension.
Relationships can epitomize this. We’re on a campus that parties, so flippant hook-ups play their reruns every weekend. Most of these episodes aren’t award-winning life-changers. But as we get caught in a mindless routine, sometimes they take the face of it. Living in our short-term time frames, sometimes we can’t help but go with the flow. Last week, this week, next week…after a while, late-night calls melt into theoretical commitments — the kind that “just happen” because no one accepts it, but no one rejects it.
Most of us will admit, though, that we’re looking for someone who goes all-in for us on purpose. Most of us want to be with someone who consciously decides the same. But that’s a broader ideal, one that we keep pushing to the side for more instant gratification. We have a definite knack for keeping busy with cheap charms, while holding off on matters of the heart. It’s romantic procrastination, but it stings because it’s also self-compromising. We forget what we actually wanted. We get distracted.
Interestingly, the same goes for our relationship with our money. The seed for this column was actually planted when some friends and I started discussing what our finances would look like post-graduation. Someone mentioned ominously that the way we use our money five years from now has probably already been set by our habits right now. I was slightly frightened. In the future, I want to channel most of my money to people other than me, and I don’t want to be reckless with spare change. That’s how I live now, though, at a school that already provides most of my needs. I’m selfish with my money.
Another person close to me tried to reassure me by saying I couldn’t possibly be so idealistic this far out anyway, since I wasn’t earning income or facing real obstacles yet, which is true. Currently, I don’t feel any real financial heat. But from here, a safe distance from my future self, I wouldn’t trust myself to keep exception from becoming precedent. As I grow up, I’ll go on trips; I’ll have a wedding; I’ll have kids; I’ll retire. And I could shelve my biggest priorities every time.
It sounds like I’m projecting, but I’m not so sure. I wasn’t prepared for college graduation in a month, either. Perhaps stronger than the force of time is the beguiling nature of habit that makes us forget time passes at all. “IT’S WEEK WHAT?!” we say. At a school with a cornucopia of resources, opportunities and amazing events, our ultimate temptation is to drown in a life of breathless details.
Personally, the most obvious manifestation of tabled priorities is the curiosity about the existence of a god. So many people are curious, letting themselves consider that there’s more than just this. So, if it’s possible to push an issue of that scale aside, all manner of other values can be forgotten — ideal love, good finances, the person we aspire to be, everything. Tomorrow never comes, which makes postponing our greatest intentions a dangerous game to play.
I want to live in the moment, to be sure. I just didn’t foresee getting lost in it.
These days, Nina is trying to tone down her incessant email-checking. But if you email her, she won’t leave you hanging. So go for it! At ninamc “at” stanford “dot” edu.