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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

I need to be kind to myself

My college application cycle was hell. I spent most of my free time in my counselor’s office reviewing colleges, looking at supplements, revising supplements, re-writing my main essay, preparing my art portfolio, preparing for interviews and so much more that I am mentally blocking out right now. It was triathlon after triathlon trying to meet every deadline, tailoring every prompt to the best of my ability and having dozens of people read the most vulnerable parts of me and tell me to express it better, often conflictingly. Rejections came and came, and I was admitted to Carleton from the waitlist at what felt like the last possible minute. I was relieved, and went to my counselor’s office in tears thanking her for all she had done to help me through this. 

I haven’t seen her since, but we text occasionally. She left me a note which I still keep pinned to the wall. She jabs playfully at me and my inability to decide things (for reference, I once had seven different versions of my main essay that I was working on at once because I couldn’t pick a topic). The note ended with this, “the most important decision you will make is the decision to be kind to yourself.” I haven’t quite managed to heed these words of wisdom in the time since.

As an international student, I know my time here is limited and uncertain. These four years are all I have guaranteed, and so I try to do all I can. Everything I can. Band performances, Synchrony, CSA, the Carletonian, ballroom dance, extra independent studies, internships, office hours, talent shows, you name it and I’m probably only a degree removed from it. I enjoy it most of the time, the refinement of my steps in dance, or meeting with professors to talk about larger independent projects to work on in my off time. But I wake up feeling as tired as when I went to sleep, despite the caffeine, and I never end the day feeling like I’ve even made a dent in what I am supposed to be doing. Every deadline comes down to the wire and there is no respite as the next one dawns on me like an ever-accelerating sunrise. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat until now.

I’ve been the Social Dance Captain for the past year. It’s a position that I deeply cherish, being able to run the club and teach with my co-captain, and help new people learn how to dance. I’ve become more involved with ballroom, going to four competitions this year (including one over Spring Break). It seemed natural for me to then take responsibility for the team in a more official position, as Ballroom Lieutenant or Ballroom Captain even. Right?

I did not run this year, for any position, not even my old one as Social Dance Captain. It hurts not to do so, to be a less integral part of an organization that has been home for me in so many ways. But I need to be kind to myself. The unfortunate reality of my academic decision of double-majoring in studio art and computer science, needing to work on independent projects in both to even have a chance of a career in either, looking for internships or God forbid a job in this economy, and just wanting some time to stop for a second means that I cannot do everything. I would not have been a good captain, had I even been elected, because the time needed to take care of something as logistically and interpersonally complex as a dance team is not something I can give while getting enough sleep to resemble a functional human being. The same is true of any leadership position, not just ballroom. If you are not able to give it at least most of your attention, you are doing a disservice to that position and the people who trust you to lead and take charge.

In spite of these (what I feel are at least) quite valid reasons for not running, it’s a decision that still pains me. I’ve had long conversations with multiple people in the team about running, and I feel as though I let them down. They’re my friends, and shouldn’t I do everything I can to help them out and make their lives easier? If I just had more energy, better time management, better priorities, I could do it all and still have time to relax. Right?

That isn’t how it works. As I have found out many times, there is an upper threshold to how long you can continuously work without relaxing at all before your body cannot handle the stress anymore and you are forced to take it easy. The strain, physical, mental and emotional, makes what used to come easily and enjoyably an unbearable nightmare of obligation and resentment. I don’t think that’s any way to live, personally. It’s a lifestyle driven by intense feelings of inadequacy and a potent fear of the future, such that the only response is work until utter exhaustion so that you can take a little bit of solace in the knowing that you are not physically capable of doing anything else. But that way of thinking is a lie, because it’s this line of thinking which leads to a Sisyphean boulder of work that you roll up and down and up and down until all you can think about is surviving the next day. I think it’s a perfectly natural response to the anxieties of modern society and the economy, when no job is secure, when no homes are available, when no future is certain for anybody but the richest amongst us. What response is there but despair or toil, or both at the same time? If you do fail, I guess it’s something to console yourself with, that there was nothing more to do.

But that isn’t how it works. Rest is not some kind of distraction from work. Taking time to yourself, or to spend time with others to remind yourself that you are a human being and not an automaton made only to move from task to task, is what it means to be alive. I hate the idea that the only way to live is to make the most optimal decisions, to play it as safe as possible and work our way down endless to-do lists. Is that not what the liberal arts is really about? Exploration while staying in touch with what makes us people, our passions and desires, not our obligations and burdens? At the end of this, I ask you to make the same promise I am trying to keep myself, to be kind to yourself and remember that you’re human too, and that’s the best thing you can be.

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About the Contributor
Rahim Hamid
Rahim Hamid, Viewpoint Editor
I write, I debate, I bike, I lie, I true, I draw and program and dance and all the rest. Say hi and don’t be a stranger! Rahim is a sophomore and previously wrote for the Viewpoint Section.

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