Alarms blare out in the morning, and we rise to another year. Expectations are building. We rush on, peering into an uncertain future. As the semester begins, we reenter the throng of passing students, dreamers occupied with illusive goals, hopeful wanderers, the walking dead, lovers and saints journeying to far-off places.
For some the feeling is light and joyful — a welcoming of new possibilities and potentials. For some, the realities of life are stark and painful. We invested too much in failed relationships. We watched too many of our dreams die like beached whales on the shores of adulthood.
Heartbreak and the challenges of love occupy a crater-sized hole in our thoughts, pushing aside spaces we need for essays and terminology. Reading a book becomes a monumental task. We let classes, deadlines and friendships slip. We disappoint ourselves repeatedly. Escaping bed in the morning is particularly challenging, as is finding a parking spot or facing the sun.
But there comes a deciding moment. We must choose whether to let ourselves drown in recurring sorrows, lost loves and hollow promises, or resolve to remake our lives.
This is a starting point. We do not go quietly, but we face a great hurdle. Years were spent creating an image of two people tied to one another. All the perceptions we built during our relationships have been shattered. We no longer know ourselves without the other. We redefine what it means to be an individual.
We must solve questions of happiness. Where does it come from, if not from this other person? How can we sustain it?
Let us begin with dissolving the expectations that others have for us. Let us accept first that our desires, goals and principles are only as strong as we make them. When we are uncertain about our futures, the temptation to follow others blindly becomes strong. Our foundations have been crushed and we are like birds chasing breadcrumbs.
Therefore, time must be spent conceptualizing our lives and discovering what we want, what we are here for, what drives us and gives us that extra ounce of inspiration not to hit snooze for the 10th time. It is easy to get discouraged with this process, but discovering our passions is an empowering and fulfilling realization.
Armed with a new understanding of what we want, we can turn our attention to becoming present. We can let the past rest and evolve within us, aware of its influence but released from its oppression. We can stop looking only to the future, hoping that someday we will be better or that we will arrive. Each day is a clean slate — a new chance to seize the moment, create a memory or improve a life.
After months of dark, dim disparity imagine how brilliant it feels to live in a single moment, to taste food again, to laugh with a friend or take a walk in the mountains. Imagine reading a book for pleasure, writing a paper that you are proud of, enjoying the sound of music again or going out on a Friday night.
It is too easy to say “It will get better eventually” or “I’ll get there someday” and coast through our lives, never reaching that fictional finishing line. Let’s accept that we are here. Congratulations! We made it! We can fill this moment with joy and wonder — buy the ticket, hit the road, dive headlong into every adventure with the voraciousness of a person living their last days on Earth.
People come and go. We can learn from them, and love them and the lessons they teach us. But we must set down the sour memories, fights, betrayal and disappointment. Let them rest like a leaf on a pond. Relish those who remain and the pleasure of their company.
In the end the deadline may not matter. The grade may not matter. Even the degree may not matter. What we will take away from college is the journey. As the great philosopher Allan Watts said, “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”