“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” A friend gifted me a brown leather journal with this quote on the cover in eighth grade. Today, I am left with a large collection of journals accumulated over the years, halfway filled with week-long, month-long, sometimes year-long intervals in between. Mirroring this is the stack of books on my bookshelf, sadly abandoned and promised a return. In my defense, I do think my memories were worth writing down— they just got lost in the promise of tomorrow.
Despite my inconsistency, writing gave me the opportunity to look back at previous seasons of life and compare them with seasons I am in now, laugh at my angsty teenage self and relate to who I was many moons ago. So now, trying to find the inspiration and attention span to pen my thoughts down again, I flip through my most recent journal, stumbling upon the “List of things I learned in 2019” I wrote on New Year’s Eve. Number six on the list catches my eye: Don’t be afraid to go out and take risks, take airplanes, take propositions. But also don’t be afraid to stay. Don’t be afraid to slow down once in a while. You’re not missing out on anything.
The advice of my former self rings true now more than ever. Throughout my three years at college, I had rushed to make the most out of the time I knew would come to an end too soon. I joined every organization that sparked my interest. I worked three jobs at once. I filled up every summer with a study abroad trip, jam-packed with side trips in between until my exhaustion overpowered my thirst for sight-seeing. And when I wasn’t doing something, I was stressing and planning for the next phase in my life, the next summer where I would need another internship or job to keep me busy and productive. That’s why, in the beginning of the winter semester, I suffered the inevitable burnout that I’d always heard of but never thought would happen to me. I was crippled with doubts and fears about where I was in life. I wanted so badly to be proactive, to be avidly internship-searching and applying to every study abroad and job I could think of, but the stress of school and my responsibilities finally caught up to me, and I quite literally couldn’t. As adventure-hungry as I was, I found myself fantasizing about a summer at home, like my high school summers, where I spent time with my family and my friends just being myself. I fantasized about feeling free, unrestricted by the need to constantly be doing something. To not feel like I was constantly missing out on something. Nevertheless, I forced myself to polish up my resume and apply to travel programs and internships, telling myself whatever happens, happens. After all, we’ve been trained not to feel satisfied with anything less than over-exertion.
Looking back to my journal entry from New Year’s Eve, I now see that I was making room for what has become my reality. The current state of our world has put a halt on our futures, and as a result, we have been forced to look inward or backward. Hindsight has been my mode of thinking as of late — trying to remember who I was before I defined my self worth by checklists and grades, gym days and meetings, how thin I could stretch myself before I collapsed. I’ve been looking through old journals. Looking through old photographs. Looking through my camera roll and smiling at the silly memories I’ve made with my friends over the past year and letting that replace the void now left by lack of social interaction. Making up for lost time with my family, catching up on their lives that I have been out of touch with while being so caught up in my own.
The point of this is not to say everyone should be having a transformative, self-reflective personal journey at this time. That is not feasible for everyone. Many of us are living in fear for ourselves, our loved ones, our futures, our world. But I do think there is some magic in the whole world being put on pause and for once living in the same moment, the future uncertain. The productivity-obsessed, grind-at-all-costs culture of our society has been disrupted. There is some bittersweet magic in just hoping, waiting, praying, together. Remembering the common thread of humanity that we have severed over the years. Maybe I’ll grab one of those unfinished journals and pick up where I left off. Maybe we’ll come out of this better than where we left off.