I waited until the second-to-last day before the deadline to send in my request for a leave of absence from CMC this semester (not the very last day because… well, I’m not that big of a daredevil). Even though it was something I knew I had to do, it was still the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my relatively short and easy life so far.
That’s because I love CMC. I love sitting at the Ath in my uncomfortably warm blazer and having my deepest, most personal convictions challenged. I love playing lawn sports with my friends on sunny Friday afternoons. I’m even in the apparent minority of people who love the zucchini circles at Collins. So, as you can imagine, the prospect of missing out on four months’ worth of experiences frightened me more than the thought of President Ben Carson did.
However, as I sit here about to finish the second month of my internship, I find myself less and less worried about my decision to take a semester off. This might be because I’ve essentially recreated the DC Program without the classes or tuition, but I’m more inclined to think that it has to do with how I’ve finally diverged from the path I always expected myself to be on.
The decision to take a semester off and actually live in the real world — let’s be honest, neither life at CMC nor during summer internships are that — was not one that freshman-year me ever saw myself making. It was a choice that has forced me to reconsider the entire culture behind five and ten-year-plans that both CMC seems to expect of us and that we seem to expect of ourselves.
I don’t mean to disparage the usefulness of plans because they do provide an incredibly helpful framework, but that’s really all they are — a framework. As CMCers, we need to be open to experiencing new opportunities, or else we risk allowing our plans control our lives.
This framework phenomenon not only applies to macro-decisions and long-term planning, but also day-to-day life. During my first three weeks in DC, I did the same exact thing every day: I worked, played basketball, watched TV, ate ice cream, and went to bed (with some basic hygiene thrown-in for good measure).
Then, one day, I arrived at the basketball court ready to block the crap out of some high schooler to make myself feel better about yelling “Kobe!” and airballing a three, only to find it closed due to construction. All of a sudden, I had a two-hour block of time to do with what I pleased. My initial reaction was to simply find another basketball court, but after realizing that the other court was too far away, I decided to accept that I was not meant to play basketball that day.
So, I made the bold choice to take a walk by the waterfront and see what else the world had to offer. To be honest, nothing incredibly exciting happened during this walk: I watched a street dance crew perform a few songs, window shopped a bit at stores way out of my intern budget, and headed home.
But when I woke up and left for work the next morning, something felt different. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly the feeling was, but I had an incredibly productive and fulfilling day at work and was noticeably less tired that evening.
A few days later, I came across the work of psychologists Karen Pine and Ben Fletcher, who advocate for a theory of behavioral change. After reading their argument, I decided to make a conscious effort to disrupt my daily routine more regularly. I began to take time off from work to attend policy discussions in DC. I traded in my basketball for a tennis racquet or library card every now and then. I even tried a new flavor of instant oatmeal: apple cinnamon instead of maple and brown sugar, which in hindsight was definitely not my best decision.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and claim that fluctuating my daily routine worked a miracle and allowed me to unleash my full potential, like that drug from the movie Limitless. I do claim, however, that it helped me get out of my rut, engage more with the world around me, and just enjoy life in DC.
It’s a mindset that I hope I’ll have when I’m back at CMC and that I hope to see more of in those around me. As CMCers, I don’t want us to limit our opportunities based on merely what we think we want to experience. Instead, we should take a step back, consider the paths we are on, and experiment with adjusting our schedules on both the micro and macro levels.
I want to see CMCers attend Ath events on unfamiliar topics and actually discuss it afterward. I want us to take different routes to class and maybe find a new favorite nap or study spot. I want Chemistry majors to take a Literature class to see how really smart people analyze texts, and I want Philosophy majors to take Econ Stats to understand how we can quantitatively evaluate justice in our society. I want us to consistently welcome new opportunities, because variety can’t just be the spice of life, but should be its most basic foundation.