The weight of certain decisions has been known to overwhelm me, though not in an all-at-once, crushing defeat. It has always been a slow decay, a creeping suspicion that I have strayed off course, that I have forgotten what I mean to be working toward.
You could compare this feeling to the editing process within the eleventh hour of essay writing. Well aware that you have already used up many of your best quotes and most impressive lexicon, you wring your hands over those last two blank pages, aware that your argument has not blossomed as originally intended. You are thousands of words deep into the wrong stream of thought, but you continue typing away, unable to start again from page one. You make slight adjustments, tugging the thesis back from where it has strayed.
This eye to minuscule consequences is the madness behind my perfectionist ways, but it is also to be credited with any accolades I have earned, whether in the classroom or in emails from editors. Simply put, it is the ever-nagging nature of my imagination that brings me my greatest successes.
My first semester at Yale Divinity School was not without similar underlying anxieties. Blame it on the apocalypse scare, but I had a hard time shaking the sense that there was something disingenuous about ivy league education and about basking in the glow of privilege at a time when so many young people are remaking themselves, reshaping the world through incredible self-sacrifice.
I had a hard time viewing hours upon hours of theological reading as anything more than a well-crafted escape from the challenges of life in the real world.
Now that I am back in New Haven after three weeks away, I find myself looking at my east coast world with a pair of eyes refreshed by my time at home. While it was never a question of whether accepting admission to this school was the wrong decision, I said goodbye to 2012 unable to shake the sense that something about the first semester had been misguided.
My best explanation for it is that much of the last four months, and the last year really, has been spent trying to be right. To make the best decision about where I should go after college graduation, who I should spend my summer with, how I should present myself to the hundreds of new New Haven faces. Every decision I made was colored by an eye to finality, by a rejection of the possibility of future reevaluation.
And that means that for the last twelve months, I have left unattended the kind of thinking that has always taken care of me. I credited single decisions with the power to make or break entire ventures and forgot the slow but steady adjustment process that guided me in the past.
I am starting to think that the true threat of your early twenties is believing that you only get one chance at the kind of throw-caution-to-the-wind decision-making that this period is so known for. The secret of a well-lived life may really be the recognition that any day, any day, could be the opportunity to readjust and creatively envision a slight shift in direction.
And so my task for this new semester, and for this whole new year, is to again embrace the editing process, and to start viewing each new decision as more of a rough draft than a final copy.
As one of my favorite quotes so wonderfully puts it: “Promise you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above water that you forget how much you have always loved to swim.”