4am. I was walking back from the 116th St. 1 train exit. I walked through the Columbia quad alone. Snow was falling. For the first time in a long time, I felt very happy. It was the same sensation I used to get daily when I went on runs in the hills of my Cameroonian village. I smiled, looked up into the snow and felt them falling onto my face. I was living in the moment.
Lately, I have been doing a lot of soul searching. It’s the last semester of graduate school, and there exists lots of uncertainties in both my professional and personal life. I am not alone. It’s at the same time scary and exhilarating. At SIPA, many of the second years are experiencing the same. There is always a hint of anxiousness in the air. For some reason, we easily forget the exhilarating side of the unknown. The anxiety can be quite contagious and it can become all too much to handle. I was losing my sense of direction, feeling uninspired, and seeking for a certain something.
In an effort to search for my soul, I stepped out of the Columbia bubble tonight and met up with a recently returned Peace Corps friend. I needed to be reminded of all the incredible lessons that we learned in Cameroon. It is far too easy to succumb to societal pressure, to feel that one must meet certain expectations, whether it’s career-marriage-2.5 kids-white picket fence or a constant need to outperform the next person and make something of oneself.
While reminiscing our time in Cameroon, we came to an important realization. We both deeply cherished our service, but noticed that some volunteers do not feel the same upon returning to the US. The difference lies in expectation. If you expect to “change the world”, you likely would leave feeling disillusioned, discouraged, and frustrated. Rather, we both went into this experience with zero expectation. We realized from an early stage that this would be 90% about ourselves and 10% about development. Yet, a virtuous cycle formed. In working on developing and understanding ourselves, we in turn were able to integrate and better serve our respective communities.
The 90/10 rule applies to the “real world”. We realized most people are actually quite miserable. They live a life where it’s 90% about career and meeting expectations, and only 10% is about understanding, and developing the self. It should really be the other way around. People need to spend 90% of time listening and trusting their instincts, and only 10% of time should be devoted to meeting societal expectations. How can we be an effective employee, mother, father, or friend, if we don’t fully trust our instinct and know what makes us jump out of bed in the AM, what makes us happy, sad, angry, etc.?
At the end of the day, my soul isn’t lost, but instead, it’s a matter of mustering up enough courage to follow instincts. In addition to going with my gut feelings, I am trying to remember the pleasure and satisfaction that exist in life. Last week, I read through old journals. In one of the entries, I had written, “I stopped in to buy snacks and saw they had Lay’s potato chips – that made my day!” How much happier would I be if I just remember the magic that this “real” world provides, and the appreciation I had for everything during my first week back from Cameroon?