Remember the good days when you fell asleep with anticipation and excited butterflies because you just couldn’t wait for the unpredictability and excitement the new day held? Neither did I at the beginning of my sophomore year in college, because as a boring adult with constant work and school, that feeling disappeared long ago. The only other time I remember feeling that way took place before the first day of school in elementary, when I got excitement and energy from shopping for a new school wardrobe and smelling the new erasers and crayons. These same smells made me grunt with utmost laziness and disapproval as I pulled the covers over my head not wanting to go to my 9 a.m. class my sophomore year.
What had happened in the time between elementary and college that made my daily life so…how should I say this…dreadful?
As I casually scanned my sophomore fall quarter class schedule one uneventful day, it all made sense to me. Looking through my schedule of dates and times for all my classes, dinners and club events, I had a very horrifying realization. With the exception of a few single discussions on some days, my days looked exactly the same throughout the week. I desperately tried to find a little glitch in my schedule or a little spontaneous dinner I forgot I planned. I tried to find anything to give me proof that I had not fallen into what I didn’t want to face until I was at least in my 40’s: the ever-dreaded idea of predictability and routine.
Don’t get me wrong. Routine produces good results in life and sometimes proves essential to getting things done and productivity.
But c’mon, as a 19-year-old in the prime of my youth, college offered me the perfect place to explore and have fun with my young energetic peers. Yet I still found myself religiously abiding by a schedule of classes, work, dinner, studying and maybe a little TV before bed. My days were supposed to feel adventurous and include late night talks with my roommates, funny stories or mishaps, sporting events, first loves and of course class lectures bursting with information I was excited to learn about. Once again I asked myself: what went wrong?
I suddenly remembered a very peculiar image of a group of people I occasionally saw at my school. UCLA has a giant lawn next to the famous Janss steps that lead up to the campus’ hub of classes and historical buildings. This specific piece of lawn with soft green grass acts as a holy grail where students can sit down, relax, play some frisbee or just soak up the sun on warm days. One day while walking down the steps, I noticed a group of hippie-like students who were setting up hammocks. They set each one higher up on the trees, one above the other so that there lay a tall line of hammocks when they were done.
Then, as if things couldn’t get weirder, they set up a single thick rope across the trees.
There, I witnessed them taking turns as they tried balancing on the rope one by one, trying over and over while failing and laughing with one another. At the time, I didn’t understand why these students with man buns and perfectly tan skin wasted their time doing such pointless things. Yet in the wake of my sad realization that I was turning into a 60–year old woman with the comfort of collecting her 401k soon, studying in hammocks and balancing on a tightrope in the middle of the school day sounded pretty darn enticing. In that moment, I vowed to myself to make my college experience a good one and truly worth it; anything to make me a little more like the carefree, happy hippie students.
I currently hated my job, so I decided I first needed to get a new job and invest in something I actually enjoyed. I impulsively applied for a new job teaching preschoolers from low-income communities. After all, I loved children and the spontaneity that came with their sudden “I’m not your friend anymore” vocabulary, wild stories and bright minds. What could possibly go wrong?
To put it simply, my days spent with these four-year-old children were the most chaotic, disorganized and exhausting days of my life.
While some days they listened intently to my books and lessons while showing improvement in writing their names, the next day they could be the exact opposite: chatty, not wanting to share and distracted beyond belief. But one thing proved certain. I got closer and closer to the children as I spent my afternoons reading to them, helping resolve their disputes and singing their favorite tunes with them, and the sudden chaos and hard work felt worth it. This one decision spurred me on to make even greater decisions that would better my life experiences.
I found myself joining new clubs, like the animation club and softball club, not for the sake of how it would better my resume and career path, but simply because I enjoyed doing them.
On Fridays when I had no class, instead of moping at the fact that I had nothing to do, I went to the beach, tried new restaurants and even explored museums. I found myself going anywhere I could pause my stressful school life and really appreciate life for what it offered. These outings proved as blessings I previously couldn’t realize because I was too busy hating my boring life, yet still lived it the same way every day.
As I sat in preschool classrooms reflecting on the life of routine and predictability I felt bound to as a sophomore, I’m glad I didn’t just sit around and wait for life to change. I recognized my own power to take charge of my own life and change it for the better. However, I recognized this change as something that didn’t happen overnight, but something I continue to learn throughout my college career. You should too, because like me, you will look back and smile at the realization that you didn’t just sit back and let the boundaries of student life hold you back. Rather, you handled your life with intentionality.