Being Conscientious in Trying Times
MCST '16, UC Davis '20
A health crisis, political uprisings, blended days, and immeasurable solitude. This is a humble grocery list of the many reasons why my current lifestyle of doing nothing at home seems to require so much work.
I’m often given the impression that happiness will magically come to me after getting into that dream school, job, partner, etc; that once I am thrust into the real world, I’ll “find myself” and understand my “true life purpose.” To some extent, I think that’s true. Constantly learning from new experiences is what allows me to develop. So, not being able to experience life through these milestones-- graduation, moving to a different state for a job, etc.-- can come with immense grief. And that’s totally valid. But honestly, if there’s anything I learned from this pandemic, it’s that doing “nothing” can also teach me a lot about myself, too. Perhaps more so than during a normal college quarter, where I’d be consumed with extracurriculars, research, classes, and my personal life.
Imagine this. My graduation and summer internship gets cancelled. It’s a common story, and I’m sad, as expected. Maybe I sulk around in my room for a week. But afterwards, I’m okay because I’m able to see my dog at home more often. I’m realizing that though I was disappointed, I feel better after spending every day with my dog (a fair assumption). Maybe that means that what I thought I missed out on wasn’t so bad after all. After all, I’m fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with a roof over my head and food to eat. And, spending time with my family makes me happy. Was I really happy overworking myself in college (for things I thought I had to do in order to be happy), or am I happier because I’m able to have the time to pursue my hobbies? If the latter makes me happier, is it worth it to “wait” until I am afforded the next opportunity to do these things again?
Maybe I also spend much of this time reading the news about the BLM movement, the exacerbation of our country's healthcare crisis, the passing of the new HK security law, and the annexing of Palestine, and I find myself extremely pessimistic and angry. “2020 can’t get any worse,” I think to myself. It seems abundantly clear that the world is finally falling apart at the seams.
But is the world suddenly bursting into flames now, or was I just not paying attention? If these issues suddenly matter to me now, why didn’t they matter to me before? Is this something I want to change moving forward?
These are rather simplified examples, but already, I am subconsciously putting myself through a reevaluation. I’m beginning to question and understand my values and what I think makes my life meaningful.
I think that in a time where society is more easily distracted and polarized than any other, being forced to place life on hold and sit by myself provides generous time to reflect on myself in relation to the current world. It is so easy to mentally push myself aside until a more convenient time: after graduating college, after passing this class, after work, after this year. And now, it’s so easy to see how fragile these regulators are when I’m watching society reveal its flaws on my phone in real-time, and I realize that I’m living a real science-fiction story.
I hope this finds you well during these unprecedented and uncertain times.
Though this time may be “unprecedented” to me, there are numerous reminders that what society is currently going through isn’t a spontaneous combustion, but rather a sustained eruption built upon centuries of history that we live on. All times are uncertain to those who are living history as it happens, but they are not unprecedented because of retained, long-established systems of hypocrisy, self-interest, and corruption. In the same way I understand history better by contextualizing the past, I understand current experiences more deeply by simultaneously relating it to what I’ve already lived through. I do this reflection and unlearning process constantly: perhaps an unsavory friend’s behavior reminds me of a moment I experienced as a child. Or an uncomfortable comment said to me in middle school? Maybe someone else is saying something similar, and I suddenly realize why that comment didn’t sit right with me.
Yes, new experiences will get me closer to (hopefully) uncovering my subconscious flaws and hidden desires. But sometimes, it takes a forced reset to realize that ironically, I don’t need to be “doing things” to know that I’m experiencing life. In the grand scheme of my very short life span, this current time isn’t too different from the others because really, all times are trying times. They won’t reform me much if I don’t think much of them, but they will always change me if I see everything I experience (every day) as catalysts for growth.