When I entered Trinity as a first year, I felt bombarded by the message that we first years were about to receive the keys to success. A plethora of course offerings? Check. Endless support, both academic and personal? Double check. Boundless resources? Another check””unless I wanted something from ScienceDirect three hours before a deadline, but that was my fault. Trinity laid it all out for us: follow these steps, join these groups, take these chances and you’ll come out on top. Pretty straightforward, right. But what does that even mean””to “come out on top”? What is this mysterious “success” we’re supposedly striving to attain? I used to think it involved receiving accolades or snagging internships or pulling my GPA up by a point. Looking back, though, these things seem insignificant (although most would generally call me successful). Now, I’ve got a different idea of success.
Here’s an anecdote to set some context. As a junior, I gallivanted off to Scotland for the fall semester. It was a big leap, as it is for so many of my peers, but it was especially terrifying for me: I had struggled with overwhelming depression for over a year, and rocking the boat seemed risky. But one month into my travels, I distinctly remember hiking along the Scottish coastline, pausing to look back at the town I lived in, and realizing that I’d finally rediscovered happiness.
And with that realization, I knew what my own definition of success would be: happiness. Did it involve losing a couple tenths of a GPA point? Yes, I chose to continue with a major I’m really quite talentless at, simply because I adore the subject. Did it involve sleepless nights and stressful days while planning events with my student organization? Yes, putting on these events gave me an immense sense of meaning, and I loved every minute of it. Everything involves some tradeoffs, and sometimes that requires us to shift our priorities.
If we want to be successful, we have to make a few sacrifices; I think it’s rather naà¯ve to think otherwise. But those sacrifices depend on how you define your version of success. We sacrifice sleep or free time or personal health or, sometimes, academics. It’s so hard to find a balance in college life, and I doubt much will change going forward. One thing we should not sacrifice, though, is happiness. I don’t think we value it enough.
It’s tempting to think that we can have it all, especially somewhere like Trinity where the opportunities are endless””there’s always another class to take, another lecture to attend, another position to search out. That’s a dangerous mentality, though, because if you over-program yourself, something’s gotta give. So sample Trinity’s offerings, but don’t imbibe too deeply. Find what works for you””something you’re passionate about””and throw yourself into it. Not only will you be happy, but you’ll also put out your best work. Win-win, right?
I guess a senior column is supposed to offer some reflection and advice, so””at the risk of sounding trite””these are my words of “wisdom”: be happy. Take pride in your work. Value the little things. When you have a chance, steal a moment to catch your breath and revel in all that’s good around you””because if you look, you’ll find it. And above all, don’t worry if your personal idea of success doesn’t match some sort of institutional standard. Screw their expectations; we’re here to learn to think for ourselves.
And now, since I AM an A&E writer, I’ll leave you on a literary note, courtesy of a memorable day in Dr. Balbert’s American literature survey (the class that sucked this eager first-semester first year into the English major without a second thought). The text: “Rabbit, Run.” I’ll have to condense one exquisite passage. Rabbit is golfing. He takes a swing; he hits the ball. “The sound has a hollowness, a singleness he hasn’t heard before”¦ “˜That’s it!’ he cries and”¦with a grin of aggrandizement, repeats, “˜That’s it.'” Find that sense of perfection. Find “it.”
Rachel Pauerstein is graduating with a bachelor of arts in English.