Ten days ago, I was walking with someone to Next House and she asked me what I thought the hardest part of college was. I thought about the question for a while and replied “consistency.” I’ve only been here for a few months, but everything is so fluid in college that I have tremendous control over what I do in my day-to-day life and because of that, it is hard to create a strong structure to my days.
That is in direct opposition to life in high school, when I had a packed schedule of classes every day. To understand why I find consistency so hard in college, I have to explain the way I interact with others. Every day possible I lay out a plan, or a schedule of what I want to do. This way I can understand what relationships I have with people, meaning I know when I’ll see someone, where I’ll meet that person, and what our interactions are about.
There are some people I check problem set answers with, some people I want to catch up with, some people I see movies, go to events, or exercise with, and some people I meet in classes, lounges, or dining halls.
It’s not because I don’t care about people that I try to define the when, how, what, where, and why aspects of our conversations. It’s more appropriate to say that doing so helps me understand what we are and what we’re not, whether we’re pset buddies, exercise buddies, dining buddies, or roommates. However, as any sports coach will tell you, the cone that you are maneuvering around in the gym is not stationary during any actual game. The cone is a person with independent thoughts and instincts.
Similarly, I set up each day thinking that I know what can and will happen, but once the day starts, it is never exactly what I imagine it to be. Well, you know the rest, right? Some days, it’s a variation of what I thought it would be; other days, it is drastically different. Sometimes I will meet someone I don’t expect to meet in a place I don’t expect and catch up with him or her. I might receive a call from a friend telling me about a fight he had with his girlfriend. He’s scared and I’ll console him through it until he’s confident again. There are days when someone wants me to explain something and I’ll spend time working through some problems with them so that they understand it. And some times friends simply show up, like a friend from across the river.
Life is very spontaneous in college, and every day can be so different from the previous day. In some ways that’s liberating, but its free-form nature makes it very hard to maintain consistency. Being in an environment where everything and everyone from your professors, TAs, friends, and classmates are so compact can make life unpredictable. Simple matters like having breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be quite a challenge, as can attending lectures, setting time to work on problem sets, and sleeping at a fixed time.
Some days you’re up late and you sleep in late and, well, you know the rest, right? That spontaneity compounded with the acceleration of life here in college makes it hard to concentrate.
If you meet someone or do something you don’t expect to do, that can be fun, but what if something goes wrong? What if you have a fight with your roommate, a disagreement with one of your fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, or a dispute with a friend or significant other? That could throw your day off and more significantly, throw you off. In that situation, I like to laugh and think, “wait a week.” The situation will change tremendously in the span of a week and I don’t have to do anything about it. There are situations in which I can’t, and I can only let it play out, and in those cases, it’s reassuring that it won’t take that long to know the truth. And the truth will set you free.
It can be discouraging to know that no matter how I try to create order, something goes awry, but that’s okay for two reasons. The first is that if everything were to work out as sketched on a blackboard, then nothing would be rewarding anymore. The second, and more important one is that, even on the worst of days when you want to curl up and do nothing, it is wonderful to be here. I have truly found… Well, you know the rest, right?