Well, I did it. I officially finished college. And I feel… it’s hard to say.
Maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Or maybe it’s because I’m off schedule, finishing my final classes in the winter when I don’t get to have the actual graduation ceremony until May. Or maybe it’s because of the uncertainty of what lies ahead, the fact that just as I’ve completed one challenge, the new challenge of adulthood is just beginning, and right now, I don’t need any challenges. What I need is a damn break.
Am I too young to be sick and tired of being sick and tired? That’s something I’ve thought about lately, and it’s just… I don’t know. I guess it’s normal for people my age to be filled with angst and contempt for society as we try to find our place in a world that far too often seems like it’s set us up to fail, but I don’t like feeling that way. And yet that’s what it sort of seems like college spent all this time training me to feel, or maybe more accurately, the world as a whole trained me to feel throughout my college years. Everything has gotten so much more cynical since 2016, with this stupid goddamn virus only taking it to a whole new level. And I mean, I get it, there’s a lot of problems out there right now that need to be addressed and that we all need to do our part if we’re going to solve them. But it seems like there’s too many people who’ve just given up and decided that these problems will define us forever, and that the only option is to hate both ourselves and everyone else instead of trying to spread positive messages about how we can build a better tomorrow.
I guess maybe a better way of putting it is that everything is so technical nowadays. And there might not be a more technical culture anywhere else in the universe than the world of academics. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t write my final thesis paper on how modern technology is hurting society more than helping it in part to stick it to the institution on my way out, and I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t write what you’re reading right now in part as a way to say certain things that I really wanted to say in the paper but couldn’t because, of course, the guidelines were so infuriatingly precise that there was hardly any room at all for subjectivity. So I’ll spare the politically-driven side of it that most of my paper focused on, but just in general, it seems like there’s so much pressure to be perfect in everyone else’s eyes instead of our own these days, and that pressure is what’s killing us. There’s a fine line between being good to other people and completely sacrificing our own individual independence to please those who will never be pleased in a world where we’ve all trained ourselves to see the worst in each other instead of the best. What the hell even is perfection, anyway? Maybe we’ve been overthinking it all this time and the most perfect thing you can be is really just your natural, authentic self.
I’ve written a lot about how important it is for me to be deliberately in touch with who I am as a true individual, and that’s why. You know, one of the biggest lies society ever told is that sophistication and civility go hand in hand, when in actuality, they’re polar opposites more often than not. Human nature is inherently peaceful, it’s only once we become institutionalized by the “civilized” world that we become anything but. And so the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that the best thing I can do for both myself and for everyone else is to just focus on being me. I can’t waste so much energy worrying about what other peoples’ perception of me might be, and I most certainly can’t let their negativity make me a negative person. Because if my whole life’s outlook is just an adverse reaction to the world around me, then I’ve failed myself and everything I stand for.
And yet at the same time, you know, maybe there’s something to be said that it’s unhealthy to know yourself too much. Because then you become your own worst enemy. You become obsessed with achieving your own idea of perfection, and that’s just as dangerous of a path to go down as it is to spend your life suppressing yourself in order to pander to the crowd. I remember the first essay I wrote last fall, when I talked about the idea of capturing that ultimate high and how it’s only whatever you decide it is, because otherwise all that happens is you end up moving the goalposts every time you think you’ve found it and it just consumes you in all the wrong ways. At some point you have to just tell yourself that enough is enough and that it’s okay to be satisfied with whatever you’ve got, and well, I guess it’s time to take my own advice.
So with that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that in this series of personal essays I’ve published over the past year or so, this is going to be the last one I write. It’s a fitting conclusion, for one thing. Then there’s also the fact that the domain website I’ve been publishing everything to is connected to my UMW account, which I won’t be able to use anymore in a few months. But mostly, it’s because as much as I love writing, it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s been a great way for me to contextualize all the thoughts in my head by putting them into words, which was my biggest goal when I kicked my passion for it into high gear last year, but it’s also something that I realize I’ve been taking too seriously. I’ve spent way too much time trying to fit the perfect words into the perfect sentences and the perfect sentences into the perfect paragraphs, and when I do that, it becomes less of a hobby as it is a chore, and it becomes something that contradicts the identity I’ve discovered so much more about through all of this.
Also keep in mind that what I’ve actually published is only a fraction of what I’ve written during the past year and change. In addition to these essays, I keep a journal of all the stuff that’s better off being kept to myself or that I just leave as unfinished drafts, and I’ve also been playing around with a few different concepts for some fictional stories, with the idea that I can funnel aspects of my own psyche into the characters I create in order to help me understand myself better. But now, I understand myself well enough to know that if the purpose of writing characters into existence is to live through them, then that’s just causing too much trouble for me. I should be writing for fun and for fun only, and right now, it’s just a bunch of extra stress that I don’t need. So I’ve decided that once I publish this, I’m going to just take a break from all that for a while.
On that note, I suppose I’m more ready than ever for the holidays. For some people the Christmas magic wears off as they grow up, but for me, it’s only become all the more special with each passing year if anything. It goes back to what I said earlier about how everything seems so cynical these days, and it’s just so beyond refreshing to have this time of the season every year where even though the weather gets colder, the atmosphere gets warmer, and it just feels like all is right in the world even if only for a few weeks. We glamorize the iconic folk hero of Santa Claus, a jolly old man who loves all the world’s children – there’s perhaps no greater symbol of innocently cheerful charm and pure, positive energy anywhere else in pop culture. He’s not a real person, of course, but he’s a real idea. He’s the personified spirit of all those warm and fuzzy feelings that we feel around Christmas time, and it’s a spirit that we could all do well to keep with us for the rest of the year too.
And so that’s the biggest thing that I’m going to try to work on as I leave behind the world capital of doom and gloom and pretentious technicality, otherwise known as academia. All I want is to just be a happy person, someone who lives a life that’s as laid back and stress free as possible, and who can even brighten other peoples’ spirits with my own positive attitude. And as far as graduating goes, I guess the best way to describe it is with an anecdote that traces back to the very beginning of my college experience. Back in the fall of 2016, when I was on my way to UMW for the very first time, “Good Riddance” by Green Day came on the radio. You know, the one that goes “It’s something unpredictable but in the end it’s right, I hope you have the time of your life…” and I thought that was really fitting, so it’s served as a bit of a symbolic motto for me throughout my time there. But if you listen to the rest of the lyrics, that song is actually a passive aggressive breakup anthem about ending a toxic relationship, hence the title.
So that’s basically how I feel right now. I enjoyed a lot of things about college. And for what it’s worth, it was worth all the while. But it also sucked me a bit too deep into a world that’s a bit too disconnected from the one I want to live in, which in turn caused me to adopt a reactionary mindset that was a bit too unhealthy for me. And so now that it’s all over, I guess all I can really say is…