On Friday, after working seven hours downtown at The Ithaca Voice, I hiked up South Hill back to campus and walked straight into the Fitness Center. I removed my jewelry and tossed it into my backpack, pulled a harness on over my dress pants and got my belay certification at the rock wall.
I got back to my room around 6 p.m. — the first time I’d been home since 8:30 that morning. I changed into some comfy clothes and tossed my dress pants, now smeared with climbing chalk, into my laundry basket. Then, I gathered up an armful of food and cookware and disappeared into the kitchen to make a pasta dinner. With a 7-meals-per-week meal plan, I cook almost all of my own food. This helps me better manage my portions, have more control over what’s going in my body and select ingredients I trust to be local, ethical and vegan.
Last year, as I became increasingly frustrated with the quality of vegetarian and vegan food in the dining halls, I thought about dropping my meal plan, but I figured it would take too much time to prepare my own meals. At the start of this semester, I decided I would take the jump. I would find the time. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Since becoming a central organizer in the We Are Seneca Lake civil disobedience movement last October, I’ve been asked a million times why I’m one of the only college students involved.
Whenever I talk about the protests to friends I think would be interested, I usually hear something like, “I don’t know where I’ll find the time.”
College is extremely stressful. It leads us to binge eat junk food, drink spastic amounts of coffee, pull all-nighters and spend countless hours in front of computer screens without exercise. And many of us, myself included, feel our future careers hinge on the quality of our performance in these four years. Talk about pressure.
It’s easy to get pulled in, to put the blinders on and forget there’s a world outside of campus, outside of Ithaca. My time on the Climate March taught me that while higher education is important, it shouldn’t be allowed to consume my life. Our society defines college as a necessary step to success, but in reality, the definition of success is unique to each person.
We have to start asking ourselves; how is what I’m doing here relevant in a broader global context? What is my work here at IC leading to? Is my lifestyle individualistic or community focused?
Our world is in crisis, and we can’t afford to get trapped in our own individual tunnels. The best way we can avoid getting boxed in is to pursue our passions. When we are immersed in the activities we truly and thoroughly enjoy, it has a tendency to put smiles on our faces that can’t help but spread to the faces of others. It is those thrilling, fulfilling moments we tend to remember, while the hours we spend laboring and fretting over an essay are recalled as an unintelligible blur.
Am I telling you to blow off your education? No. But what I am trying to say is that a balance needs to be found between the serious and the lighthearted, the work and the leisure, the planned and the spontaneous, the expectations and the passions.
I spent this past Christmas in Vermont with friends from the Climate March. One night, long after every one else had fallen asleep, I was awake staring at the ceiling. I was consumed with thoughts of the spring semester, wondering how I was possibly going to transition back into college after spending five months in a nomadic and communal lifestyle. I started to fall into an uneasy sleep, my stomach tied up in anxious knots.
When I was just about to drift off, I suddenly bolted upright and reached for my computer. I had an idea.
After perusing through the recreation and leisure studies department on the college website, I decided I was going to change my international politics minor to outdoor adventure pursuits. I fired off an email to my academic adviser, shut my computer, settled back down and fell into a peaceful sleep almost immediately. It was decided, just like that.
Did I like my politics minor? Absolutely. Was it a good supplement to my journalism major? Of course! But after dreaming of Colorado mountains and New Mexico sunsets and all the State Parks we had visited along the March nearly every night, I knew deep down I needed an outdoor education. My new minor will help me guide my journalism career down the path I really want to follow: environmental and outdoor reporting.
With only seventy years or so (if we’re lucky) to be alive, what we really don’t have time for is following the life we think we’re supposed to live instead of the one we want to. Make the changes you need to and find the time.
But don’t take my word for it. My friend Brendan Davis, who runs a company solely focused on encouraging people to pursue their passions, put together this awesome interview mash-up with some older folks. Their message? There’s no time like the present: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiLjgzEow2Q
I’ll leave you with a quote my Marcher friend Jimmy Betts wrote while he was in jail for blockading Crestwood’s gates on Seneca Lake:
“Once you’ve awakened to a larger truth, returning to sleep is a spiritual death sentence.”