As a third-year, with friends who are mostly third-years, I’ve been hearing a lot recently about the Mid-College Melancholy. And, to me, it sounds eerily similar to the Freshman Depression, the Sophomore Sadness and the Soon-to-be-Graduate Grief. Each year, for one reason or another, people are sad and each year, people think their sadness is the result of some extra “stress,” “pressure” or “complication.” At a certain point, one has to question why so many people are so sad and so stressed and why so many think they are so alone.
We’ve all been through the “After this quarter, I’m gonna be so much less stressed” phase only to finish that quarter and say, “Damn, this next quarter is going to be intense!” When does it end? When we retire? No, then we have to golf. So is it when we die? Is our final breath the only worry-free breath we’ll have in the next 80 years? I hope not, for all of our sakes.
I can’t speak for those who suffer from clinical depression or other disorders that might affect one’s consciousness, and I am not so pompous as to assume I know anything about what that feels like. But for those who, like me, have no discernible illnesses and still wake up in the morning and think, “Wow, I can’t wait until this day is over,” then go through the day in a haze because everything is so crucial, but not as crucial as the next thing, and finally go to bed and start worrying about the 45 extra important things to do tomorrow, it’s time to stop and think about why we do this to ourselves. Why do we let ourselves be so sad about what we’re “stuck” doing? Why do we “hunker down” for four years, only to “hunker down” for the next 40, until we’re so burned out that we just die?
Think about this: If you already feel overbooked, underpaid, sad and stressed, what is going to change that? Say you make it through the craziness and you get into Harvard Law. You made it! Is the stress finally over? Nope! Welcome to another three years of unbelievable stress. But maybe after that you’ll land a sweet gig at a top law firm. Woop! Welcome to another 20-to-30 years of unbelievable stress. Each day you choose to be stressed, you’re investing in a future that means more stress, more responsibility, more effort, less time, and usually, less happiness for you.
We put on our blinders each morning, chug a cup of coffee and remind ourselves that suffering today means a brighter day tomorrow. But when do we get that brighter day? When do we get to cash out and take our prize?
We’re all gamblers and we are so addicted to it that we don’t even notice. We bet our days on the odds that tomorrow will pay double, that the payoff will be worth it one day. Then tomorrow we do the same. And so on and so forth until the show’s over and we say, “Well shoot, I guess I should have taken the prize a little earlier…”
It’s amazing that we all get the same advice, “Enjoy these four years, they’re the best of your life,” and almost nobody listens. Then we look back and say, “Damn, I really wish I’d gone out paddle-boarding more instead of reading stupid books that I’ve long since forgotten.” Quit cramming and start enjoying the ride.
Cash out every now and again. We all work hard, we all have problems and we all deserve a slice of happiness. Your slice is waiting, you just have to reach out and grab it. Slam your face in it, roll around in it. But if you leave it on the table for too long, it’s going to get stale and moldy and you’re going to think it’s not even worth it. Enjoy your prize each and every day, because before you know it, you’ve bet it all on the future and the future is long gone.
Take a deep breath every now and again, stop and appreciate where you are and trust that you’ll get to where you need to be. I don’t know many people who would trade their past for anything — our pasts are what make us unique. So trust that in the future you will say the same thing, “I wouldn’t trade it,” and have a little bit of fun, give someone a hug and remind yourself that you’re awesome each and every day.
Emile Nelson is ca$hin’ out.