“Do you think I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: It is given to us at dawn, and taken away from us at dusk.”
– Jean-Paul Sarte
Sometimes, I feel trapped here.
Don’t get me wrong, I love college, and, yeah, that Asher Roth song is still on some of my playlists. But I still feel like there’s something missing, a certain vitality or reality that is conspicuously absent.
Maybe it’s got something to do with personal relationships. My friends here, much as I love them, don’t have the same history as the people who I grew up with, who got in fights for me in middle school, drunkenly wandered my hometown with me, who I supported and they in turn supported me through breakups, family drama, encounters with the law, and countless other stupid escapades.
Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that I haven’t been in a serious romantic relationship since I got here, and I definitely shoulder the majority of the ownness for that. I’ve become too casual about intimacy. I struggle to care in the same way I used to, not in an “oh, yeah, I get with tons of girls, dude, it’s no big deal” kind of way, but more in a “I no longer feel those visceral ties of affection on the few occasions I’ve gotten serious with another person”.
But I think those are both symptoms, rather than the cause of my feeling that something’s missing in my life. There are two topics I want to discuss; motivation, and the freedom/structure dichotomy, both of which are big issues in my life right now. Not to get abstract or anything, but I’m gonna.
Three years ago, I wanted to be on an all-district list for my senior year playing football. I didn’t want to be all-state or first team all district, I didn’t even want to be a team captain, I just wanted some recognition for four years of doing something I loved. I loved every aspect of the game, from the pre-practice jitters, to how there was always dirt encrusted in the palm of my left hand, to how I could lie down at night and fall into void without thinking. I loved being tested, looking across at the guy who, after three thundering heartbeats, would throw himself at my line and try to break it with every ounce of effort he could. I loved my teammates, my coaches, even some of my rivals. And I wanted to see if that feeling could be translated to something tangible, to a recognition of my small part in the game I loved.
So I worked for it. I lifted weights after every practice, did burpees when I woke up, read books about line drill, and watched a lot of NFL. And every second was a pleasure. I felt more invested than ever, and every game, every practice, every conditioning session, every rep… it all mattered. With each drop of sweat, I moved closer to my goal. And even after my season ended with a brutal concussion, I got there: second team all-Jefferson district. Might not sound like much, but I was stoked.
But working in a class I can’t really care about, so I can get a good grade, so I can get a good GPA, so I can get a good paying job, so I can be secure and successful? Fuck, I could care less. I mean, intellectually, I know I should care, and I stress about it all the time, but I don’t have any love for what I’m doing in school nowadays. I want to be making a difference, or better yet, to be challenged in the same way that my experiences with football challenged me.
A combination of things that I genuinely want and a genuine appreciation for the activity I’m doing, that’s what drives me.
Nick, you have perfect attendance at your barista job. How does that fit the paradigm you’re setting out?
I enjoy the job itself. Sure, it’s mindless and boring at times, but I like making coffee. More importantly, I like the people I work with, feel a sense of personal attachment to them, and don’t want to let them down, so I make a point of being reliable. Also, I really, really want a car: there’s the goal.
Nick, you seem to be doing a lot of writing, and often times neglect classes that are within your major to work on Creative Writing or personal projects. Explain.
I don’t’ really have a goal in mind for this one, bit writing is the shit. I can be myself here, articulate thoughts I never could in person, build ideas and abstractions out of white space and a blinking line, and it makes me feel productive and worthwhile to boot. Doesn’t hurt that I’m good at it either, much like football. That’s a not-so-humble-brag, just so we’re clear.
So, motivation. Yeah. Not so great at it. Maybe the stumbling block is the paradigm I’ve set for myself: that I can only excel at something I truly enjoy, and struggle with almost everything else. Not maybe, that’s definitely part of the issue. The problem is, though, that I have no clue about how to go about changing that.
My father once said, when I talked to him about some of this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.”
Well Dad, I’ve been faking it for three straight years. It’s kept me from flunking out, but I haven’t made it yet.
Okay, so that depressing-ass issue has been discussed enough, so let’s move on to one I can be equally cynical about: my struggle with finding a balance between freedom and structure.
My family’s got plenty of issues. One of them is consistency with regard to how much freedom my little sister and I were given throughout middle and high school. Being part of a joint-custody agreement for most of my formative years, and constantly moving between two parties that rarely exchange any sort of information is certainly contributory to my struggles today finding a balance between freedom and structure. I don’t want to place blame, though. I’ve said it before in my writing: I can only talk about me, and if I deviate from that precept, things are only shades of grey.
I know that I’ve got too much of a certain kind of freedom here at Tech. There’s few consequences if I miss a class. My parents pay for everything, my rent, my phone bill, my tuition. Therefore, I have very little personal investment in my time at school. It’s not how I want to feel, and intellectually, I know that my folks have put themselves on the line for me to be here. But there’s no immediacy, no sense of personal responsibility, even no tangible incentives: It’s not like poly sci majors from (no offence I really do love you VT!) a second tier university are in high demand.
Yet, in another way, I have too little freedom. I don’t have a car, and therefore can’t be out backpacking, fishing, or taking spontaneous road trips on the weekends, all of which are great personal passions. While my essentials are all taken care of, I am, personally, dead broke. This means less going out with my buddies, going golfing, seeing live music, or even watching Tech games, one of the greatest pleasures of attending this school. The reason I didn’t buy a student ticket this year? I couldn’t afford it.
The reverse of freedom is structure. Why’d I do well in high school classes? I had to be there, every day, by law, and there were very immediate consequences associated with neglecting school. Get a bad grade on a test? Coach Sherry, my football coach, wouldn’t play you in the next game, not to mention the reaming I could expect from my folks.
I’ve tried to artificially recreate structure on my own at Tech in the past year or so. I tried scheduling obsessively – just ended up ignoring them. I tried reaching out to advisors for advice and guidance – turns out they can’t change your habits for you.
I foresee this as being a big issue in my life if I don’t teach myself consistency and self-regulation. God help me, but I’ve even thought about the army, not because I’m patriotic, certainly not because I want to see combat, but because it’s a structure with internal consequences and incentives. I don’t know the solution to these two issues in my life. I feel like doing nothing will cement the bad habits and ideations that I’ve habituated myself to. But I don’t know where to go from here, either.
I know this sounds like a letter of intent to drop out of school and pursue my random fancies. But here, intellect, or maybe just fear, steps in. I’m in too deep at this point, even though I’m just now emotionally mature enough to recognize that these issues are really tearing at me. It would have been, not great, but acceptable to decide not to go to college, even to drop out after a semester or two. But now, five semesters in, my parents have invested thousands of dollars in me being here. Dropping out now would be a huge loss, not to mention a source of crippling guilt that would dog me for the rest of my life. So I can’t do that.
So, yeah. Sometimes I feel trapped here.