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Healthy Living at CMC: Spread Yourself Thin

December 9, 2013

Healthy Living at CMC: Spread Yourself Thin
by Jack Haughteling

I remember the first time I danced. I was in London at a pub called The Lexington, a ten-minute walk from my flat in a neighborhood called Angel. I remember the song too: "The Great Curve" by the Talking Heads. I was 21. This sounds silly on the surface. What about the "Macarena," or that time your Dad made you dance to The Beatles in front of your whole extended family? What about the countless number of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Sweet 16s and high school dances that you had no choice but to attend?

The truth is that dancing kind of sucks when you’re younger. It’s a thing that people do, and so you also do it. But you don’t really experience it in the way it’s supposed to be experienced. And so you go through the motions, but you never really dance.

Then one day, you dance-- without any care in the world about how ridiculous you look (and believe me, unless you’re Fred Astaire or MJ, you look ridiculous) or who’s watching. And that whole world-- where people dance for the sake of dancing- finally makes sense. And for a brief period, even if it’s a minute or two, you’re entranced in a state of thoughtlessness.

Perhaps you experienced this feeling of euphoria earlier on in life, and I was just late for the party. Maybe you're an actual dancer who is scoffing at the idea that dance is all attitude and enjoyment and no form.

But I’m going to stop there, because this isn’t really an article about dancing. It’s about epiphanies, and about coming to understand things that at one time may not have been clear, or made sense.

I recall another memorable period of my life: the last two to three months of sophomore year, when I was preparing for my summer internship, the Washington Program, and what I thought at the time would be the rest of my life.

Day after day, I’d research internships, email cover letters, and fantasize about my future self: a campaign manager, a policy wonk, an elected official. All in all I just wanted to feel like I was putting myself on a path toward becoming an important person, someone who is recognized and who makes a difference in their field.

Every morning, I would wake up, drink coffee, and breeze through Politico and Real Clear Politics. I watched the West Wing religiously. I was, for all intents and purposes, obsessed, less with politics than with the idea of politics.

Later I realized that my obsession was merely a product of boredom. I couldn’t find meaning or fun anywhere else, so I turned to envisioning my future important self.

This is, unfortunately, what we sometimes turn to-- especially at prestigious schools- when we feel empty or unfulfilled. Something is wrong, and instead of confronting what’s wrong we turn to the future; all my problems will be solved when I get this internship, or when I’m a high-powered such and such. Because we’re smart, and go to schools that people recognize for being terrific, we bask in our glorious futures, full of comfort and happiness and free of problems, without trying to reconcile the present: our fears and doubts, our relationships with others, our passions and hobbies.

It’s a funny part of human psychology that it’s when we are the most fragmented and unsure about ourselves (i.e. right now) that we seem to pretend we’re the opposite: cohesive and figured out, a finished product.

It’s also funny how the work world and academia seem to push us toward this same extreme. Job interviews reward the ability to market oneself as the “perfect fit” even though we almost never are. Classroom discussions teach us to talk in ways and with words that make us seem like experts, even though we rarely ever are.

There’s a cosmic irony to it all, to job interviews and classroom conversations and growing up, that can’t be looked past.

And the irony is that the “finished product” we supposedly are (or are pretending to be) may become undone. Perhaps you view something differently than you once did, or meet a person that totally changes your life. Maybe you go abroad and realize that you like another country more than you like your own.

And then it’s back to square one.

The truth is that you can’t avoid the classroom or job interviews. What you can do is change your approach toward them. You can go to class a curious student, humble and aware of your inexperience and limited knowledge, instead of a pseudo-expert who throws out facts and empty academic buzzwords (I’ve been that person. You don’t want to be that person). And you can interview for a job, keeping in mind that while it may be a part of what you do, it says little about you as a person. Your interview self, you realize,  is probably different from your real self, who may be less of a perfect fit, but let’s face it, is way cooler.

What’s more, it’s our ability, as young people free of the responsibilities that we may someday have (kids, for one), to take advantage of opportunities that may not be there down the road: to try new things, to meet new people, to remain open-minded about everything and everyone. There’s a reason these clichés are clichéd.

Just last week, I took part in a play for the first time since 6th  grade. I was scared that I wouldn’t be up for it, and that I’d fare terribly. I did fine. And even if I had done terribly, that would have been okay too (at least in theory). The week before, I followed in my Washington Program footsteps, partaking in a debate with CMC professors on the government shutdown. On Wednesdays, I am a part of a writing group that meets at the library. My writing, at best, is amateurish. Again though, what’s important is that I’m doing it.

I’ve really spread myself thin this semester. I’ve taken on too much. But I guess that's been kind of the point, and part of the larger takeaway: I’m twenty-two, an expert at nothing, and interested in everything.  And I’m dying to dance again.

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