As I walked along the Bryan Center Plaza on Thanksgiving morning, I took a second to stop and admire the petite, white Christmas tree situated cozily next to the metal dining tables. I touched the wiry branches that felt too artificial; I traced the journey of the delicate light strand.
And then I realized that I was being too nostalgic and scurried back to my dorm to continue working on internship applications.
When I first think about this stark change of mood from seasonal warmth to calculating apathy, I give myself a mental high-five. “You’re going places, Molly,” I tell myself, and I pat myself on the back for abandoning living in the present in the hopes of securing a bright future.
When I put it like that, such a mood shift does not seem so bad. But in reality, what if all I am really doing is refusing to develop myself now, while being confident that the time for personal growth and identity construction will simply be a byproduct of future financial and educational success? Am I deceiving myself into thinking that if I can avoid being wrapped up in the perceived “indulgences” of the present and still be a warm, likeable person?
I met with a professor recently to discuss—yes, you guessed it—my future career goals and my summer plans. At least, that is what I planned to discuss going into the meeting. The conversation, however, ended up only marginally touching on those topics and instead rerouted me into reconsidering everything I thought I knew about my social experiences. It was the best conversation I’ve had to date while at Duke. When I was finally asked if I had a clear, unifying vision, I came up at a loss. I suppose I had thought that something as basic as knowing the core foundation for all of my other issue-based beliefs would just come to me later. Perhaps I had fantasized it would come to me on the D.C. Metro while riding to work on the Hill, decked out in my expensive leather pumps and perfectly tailored suit jacket. The “identity stuff” could come later, right? Who has time for the present when the future is ruthlessly nipping at your heels?
I’m not saying that having goals and caring about the future is a soul-draining experience. I’m not saying that I am a heartless individual who doesn’t know herself or her convictions—quite the opposite. I have strong beliefs, and I stand by them. What I am saying is that I know for a fact that when given the choice, I eschew the “now” for some glorious vision of the “future” that leaves me forgetting the beauty of the life that I currently live. When I can’t even take joy in the magic of a Christmas tree during a holiday break—when I theoretically should not be obsessing over my workload—I know there is some misalignment in my prioritizing.
I don’t think I’m alone. I urge you all to continue pursuing your dreams, regardless of career path. I encourage you to apply for any internship you find interesting and to be the successful Duke student that you undoubtedly are. But I also beg you to take a moment this holiday season and devote at least one night to bucking that lifestyle in favor of one that unabashedly and unashamedly indulges in the glory that is the present. Laugh uncontrollably. Flirt with someone—heck, even ask him or her on a date! Don’t feel like you are wasting your time. You’re not. You’re learning valuable social skills, and yes, these skills will indeed help you along in that future you both love and hate to envision. At the same time, the experience will be so irrevocably tied to the present that you won’t even be able to contemplate the future for those few seconds that you stare into that person’s eyes with a wonder you haven’t felt in a long, long time.
No internship acceptance can simulate those feelings, no matter how prestigious it may be. This holiday season (and beyond), be more than a name on the top of a resume. Be a reckless, insatiable, present-loving college student, regardless of how unprofessional it may seem. These moments are the building blocks to life, and if we don’t savor them now, when we look back in later years that tower of blocks we worked so hard to assemble for ourselves may crumble faster than we ever imagined. I don’t want either of us to be unpleasantly surprised by the foundation (or lack thereof) that may remain.
Molly Walker is a Trinity sophomore.