I haven’t written anything in a few months (I know, I know, I started my last blog post like that too… I pay too much for this website) but since it’s summer and I haven’t been doing anything except binge watching Scrubs and spamming Shaco games, I finally have the time and energy to write some more again.
This summer marks the end of my sophomore year at Columbia and the halfway point of my college years, so this seems as good a time as any to reflect a little upon my two years of college.
I still remember coming to Columbia two years ago in August, moving in with my sisters, taking a picture in front of John Jay with a big blue “Welcome to Columbia” banner, unpacking my stuff, and sitting in my tiny John Jay single wondering why this room had pillars in the most awkward places and if I should be trying to make friends. I remember walking around lost around campus, I remember being confused by Lerner’s layout, and I remember feeling like a stranger in a very strange land. It was this weird mix of anticipation, excitement, and fear, and now, two years later, Lerner still confuses the fuck out of me and I still sometimes have trouble finding IAB, but I know my way around Morningside and Columbia, I have a favorite sandwich at Milanos (thanks Gary), and I have a bunch of great people I am lucky to call my friends. Even though the last two years just flew by, and day to day nothing seems different, in the last two years, looking back, so much has changed.
In my time here, I’ve learned some math and some CS, I’ve learned more generally what math and CS are, I’ve learned far more about Ancient Greek texts and political philosophy than I know what to do with, I’ve learned about the value and importance of hard work, I’ve learned about taking time for yourself, finding balance in life, and I’ve learned more about myself than I thought there was to learn. All of this has been an incredibly positive experience- this is all such interesting stuff, and I’m so lucky to be able to be here.
But I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned here is that things are not always so simple, and the really interesting and important things are often more nuanced and complicated than I expected. When I was younger, I thought that while every year, I’d learn and refine the way I saw things, eventually there would be an end to this recursive process and I’d finally be able to say with confidence this is what’s right. I expected there to be a pearl in the middle of all the layers of onion I was peeling away, and I suppose one of my biggest lessons is that there is no pearl- all that’s at the center is more onion. Life doesn’t lend itself to simple reductions, and anyone who tries to hash any significant part of it to a couple of sentences or lessons is using some pretty crappy lossy data compression. Things are complicated and often contradictory, and in the words of my CC professor, we are messy, messed up, and always messing up. Most everything isn't always so easy, and as soon as you say something is this way or that way, you’re often already wrong. In my 19 years, I’m happier and I’m sadder and I’m dumber and I’m smarter and I’m bigger and I’m fuller but at the same time I’m smaller and I’m emptier than I’ve ever been in my life. Is that contradictory? Well, maybe, but I am fond of these lines from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself:
We all contain multitudes, and we are not so easily written off one dimensionally. The guy who bumped into you in the subway isn’t just an asshole, the professor who gave you a bad grade :( isn’t a dick, the quiet guy in your class isn’t just a quiet guy- we are all complicated, we all contradict ourselves, and we all contain multitudes. Any attempt to define ourselves by small traits is to do a disservice to the complexity of our lives.
But realizing these contradictions lends itself to a lot of uncertainty, and because of that, this past semester I struggled a lot with my identity and grappled with some difficult questions. What makes me a good person? How do I judge good and bad? What makes me feel proud of myself, by what measures can I say I’m doing well? What do I like about myself, what do I like to do, and what motivates or excites me? These didn’t used to be difficult questions for me back in high school. I had a (not always self-defined) idea of what good and bad meant, and I felt like I was a good person because I cared about other people and I did nice things for other people. I was proud of myself because I was doing well in school, because I felt like I was following a plan and meeting my goals. I liked my extra-curriculars, and learning new things excited me. Now, grades, despite being a standardized and easily quantifiable measure, just aren’t that important to me anymore (sorry mom), and I don’t have much of a plan for now, let alone the future. I’m not sure what it means to be a good person or for me to be doing well, because when I started to think a little more for myself and question what I used to think, my old beliefs fell away and nothing really replaced them. Things began to become more confusing, and as I learned more about everything, I realized I had left the comforting land of certainty for the fuzzier horizons of uncertainty.
I think despite all the evidence to the contrary, we all have a drive to understand and a desire to know, and it's a paralyzing fear- the fear of not knowing which way to move forward or what forward is or even where you are, of realizing that the world is not as linear as you thought, that it is a forward backward upward downward sideways kind of life. I wasn’t sure about very much, and I didn’t have much to hold on to. What made me a good person? What made me more deserving than others to receive these opportunities? What made me worth my time here? I was lost and anxious in a sea of uncertainty, and I felt like I was drowning a little, just trying to keep my head out of the water. Worst of all, sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was a good person or if I was worth it, and to question your own worth and value- boy, that’s tough. To be honest, I still don’t know the answer to these questions, and I think I won’t for a very long time. These are tough questions, and I think to provide reductive and trite answers is to forget how important and complex these questions are.
I think right now, instead of definite answers, all I can really say is don't give yourself such a hard time (God knows I do it all the time), and keep being patient, keep trying new things, keep faith in the future. Fly, and if you can't fly, then run, and if you can't run, then walk, if you can't walk, then crawl, but no matter what just keep living and moving. Take comfort in that some questions just aren't so easily answered, and it's ok to be confused and to be struggling, that life would be a lot less interesting if these questions had nice and simple packaged answers. So I guess if you ask me how college is, sure, I like college, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown a lot, I’ve matured a lot, but really,