As high-functioning college students our lives are largely dictated by routines. Each day brings demands for which we must appropriate time carefully: class, work, socializing, meals, studying, exercise, etc. Creating these regimented schedules is instinctual for those looking to maximize well-being and success. Daily goals have to be met and establishing routines is the surest way to meet them. It is through these self-imposed patterns that each day in college assumes relevance, a sense of purpose about it. The path to graduation and beyond feels like the construction of a jigsaw, with each day accomplished adding another piece.
But can routines become problematic? That is to say, does it matter whether each day is a wholly predictable affair? Certainly we have responsibilities and expectations that demand some systematization in our lives. Yet we humans are spirited, free willed creatures – surely not systems. In fact, it seems that each individual experience shifts one’s sense of self, albeit minutely. Since we evolve and change on a daily basis, is it not unnatural to design inflexible blueprints that map out our daily activities?
An seemingly trivial anecdote further elucidates my point. For most of my life I felt a visceral loathing of mushrooms. Due to whatever obscure reason I have always refused to eat them, no exceptions allowed. Just a year ago I was at an Italian restaurant with family when I saw a mushroom risotto dish on the menu. I finally managed to ask myself: “What’s holding me back from getting this risotto? After all, I don’t even know what mushrooms taste like, so how can I claim to dislike them? Can I continue to ignore the fact that my fear of mushrooms is unfounded and illogical?” In an act of spontaneity I ordered the risotto, and sure enough discovered that mushrooms aren’t all that bad.
What was preventing me from eating mushrooms? In essence, nothing. Mere mental schema, steering me away from a new experience I had no reason to steer from. Perhaps then one might inquire: “Is there anything else that I am missing out on?”
For example, maybe you’ve always had a keen appreciation for movies and television: What is stopping you from auditioning for the school play or joining a theatre club? Saturday has arrived and you have nothing to do: Why not take the train into L.A. and simply see what happens? College life has you feeling down and you need a drastic change in environment: Is anything holding you back from taking a year off and joining a Buddhist monastery? Perhaps the last example is too much of a leap but the substance of the argument remains. After all, since the genitor of any whim is simply one’s own mind and thought processes, shouldn’t whims be taken at least somewhat seriously? Such impulsive passions are distinctly personal and thus have intrinsic value to them, no matter how random or ridiculous they might seem in a larger context.
These spontaneous actions are not merely sources of pleasure in and of themselves. Rather, the occasional act of spontaneity fosters a spirit of independence, inquisitiveness and restlessness – a spirit that every young and opportunity-laden student should embrace. Considering that the real world looms in the near future, you must discover by yourself and for yourself what your life is to mean. To do this, you must compartmentalize external sources of influence and dissect your sentiments openly. If you feel that parental authority hovers over your decision-making, then extricate yourself from any emotional sway and contemplate the matter carefully. If you feel that CMC (or whatever school you may attend) is shepherding you in a particular direction, then shelve their institutional wisdom and take a moment of undiluted self-reflection. In short, revel in the sovereignty that is yourself and chart an individualized path. Because if we, as students, do not think with an unhindered perspective, how do we grow intellectually? If we do not allocate time for introspection, how can we be sure that we are being true to ourselves? Perhaps most pertinent: if we fail to mull over our preconceptions and routines, how do we give substance to our claim of being future leaders?
For the sake of argument, let us briefly acknowledge that life is a rather spontaneous thing. It seems only in accordance with that nature that we act spontaneously at times, and by extension, allow ourselves to think freely. The classroom lends information and skills but self-realization is an organic process. It must be personalized, intangible to others, and separate from institutional influences and societal expectations. It is an invigorating journey that spans the individual lifetime. You and you alone must decide the manner by which to live. Once this truism is appreciated, it becomes acutely obvious that no engrained notion you or I may have is insurmountable. To truly grow, we must continually challenge the things we’ve come to know and accept. In turn, the world continually reopens itself to interpretation in new and beautiful lights.