1,460 days. That’s college.
I’ve bought into the ideology that those 1,460 days—those four years of college we’re so lucky to have—are the best four years of our lives. Sometimes I don’t know why. I’ve experienced bliss and excitement and privilege. It isn’t fair to say that this is an honest to goodness, omnipotent and overarching claim—but having setbacks merely ascertains the sweetness of the better days.
I’m a second semester senior, and, by the time this column is published, I will have less than two months remaining in North Carolina.
Four years is the prescribed—and in most cases, the acceptable and abided by—period of time we’re given to enjoy this chapter of our lives. Four years to be reborn in a city of probable newness, make an army of friends out of proximity and thin air and mix in schoolwork along the way. A few daunting tasks—but beware: Accomplish them quickly or you’ll find yourself out of the loop, friendless, taking classes where you’re hiding in the back of the room contemplating whether or not this is where you belong. Make friends fast. Pick a major quickly. Or don’t—I didn’t.
It’s natural to approach the final months of your college career with trepidation. Maybe you have a job, maybe you don’t. Maybe you got into grad school, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you don’t even know what you can do with the degree you spent thousands of dollars on, drank hundreds of cups of coffee to stay awake for and spent 1,460 days with.
You aren’t alone.
We very typically, very systematically believe that college is a time where we must be wrought with tremendous purpose. We are supposed to make considerably wise choices with a few token mistakes, but in all, the result is meant to exist within a framework of purpose. Purpose is success, and success is purpose.
I would be remiss if I said these instances and prescriptions for purpose were a mistake. We should all acknowledge the encouragement of being fundamentally sound in our decisions, and our risks should be calculated to a degree that considers responsibility. The caveat, however, is that if you feel yourself questioning this sense of purpose, unsure of where your priorities will align with your career and your degree and the life you have imagined for yourself—you need to stop visualizing this as a problem.
In four years, we read a mountain of texts, all with deep, vivid and sometimes convoluted implications and notions. A student of anthropology, our curriculum is bolstered by thick, heady readings about life and death and every dropped pin of existence along that route. The most important thing I’ve ever read, however, isn’t something I’ve come across in class.
In 1966, a man named Alan Watts penned “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.” The Book is a mind-blowingly existential work, a commentary that takes some very old, very philosophical Hindu teachings and provides readers with a script of modernity and realization.
I do not follow Hinduism, nor do I intend to. But when a book is written in 1966 and could fool people if you told them it was written yesterday, it’s a worthwhile piece of literature to turn some of the most ungreased gears inside our minds. Watts gives us an alarming number of things to be considered—and religion aside, it’s important to consider what he says and take it seriously, especially at the point of our lives where we are meant to be most malleable.
We believe a lot in the theory that we have to “face the world.” We have to consider ourselves as individuals against the rest of the universe. Watts takes issue with the way we see ourselves as human in the great vastness that is the universe.
“The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity,” he writes. Talking about existence and humanity is heavy, sure, but his point is clear—Watts thinks that too much, if not always, individuals feel that they must face reality. They must conquest nature and conquer it all. People feel they are “lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe,” and this temporal view of humanity can be saddening.
Our attitude of hostility—the us-against-the-world arrogance—is concerning. We are constantly pressured to conquer the world, asked to triumph over it—“nature, space, mountains, deserts, bacteria,” Watts says. We are meant to overpower these things. To make them ours. To fix them. To erase and eradicate them. Our purpose is to dominate them, instead of act with interdependence.
We’re always challenged to go against the grain and conquer the things that are ahead of us. We have to make leaps and bounds and hurdle the obstacles that have so conveniently landed on our prescribed trajectory of success. We must find that purpose. Purpose is success. But four years is an arbitrary—no, an unrealistic—frame for that hunt for individual benevolence in a universe of unfathomably great mass.
Take some of those 1,460 days. Read “The Book.” Travel alone. Meet people—new, strange people—and learn their purpose.
Drive slowly. Live slowly. And purpose will follow.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Thursday. Send Ashley a message on Twitter @smashleycamando.