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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Be the uncarved block

So there have been a few panic attacks in Ru Land lately.  Some paranoia.  A pinch of hysteria.  Typical quarter-life crisis stuff.

In honor of my current cycle of insomnia-driven lunacy, I dug up an old column I wrote, despite the Internet Eating Monster that made most of them invisible to the googling eye. Sometimes it's nice to remember the wisdom I had at 22 and recommit to a life of overall meh-ness. So let's say some ohms and reconnect with our chi, shall we?   


Don't try so hard.


This is my advice to all incoming students, and undoubtedly your parents will say, "Don't listen to that devil woman! Achieve! Excel! Become upwardly mobile!"


But I say, nay, listen to me, wee freshmen.


Many a first-year student will come to the U with dreams of triple majors, entering the CIA, hunting down Osama, becoming Secretary of Defense and saving the planet.


I have an example of one such first-year student. Let us call her Crazypants. Crazypants had to get perfect grades. She had to keep her perfect boyfriend. She had to have three jobs. She had to be in 40 extracurriculars. She had to be a size two.


Crazypants had a mental breakdown halfway through sophomore year. 

True story.


In the 1800s, the goals of the average Utahn were simple: Don't die. Accordingly, 'twas a simpler time.


Now, our goals are so numerous that what should arguably be the ultimate goal--don't die--probably won't even make the list:


• Maintain close relationships with friends.
• Achieve maximum hotness.
• Find significant other (who has also achieved maximum hotness).
• Get good grades, but don't forget to…
• …pad that resume! Join that frat! Plan that service project! Look for internships! Get a job! Become important!
• Buy a Hummer.
• Plan for retirement.
• Become socially aware. Sell Hummer. Buy Hybrid Accord. Rent "Crash" on the way home.
• Achieve self-actualization.


Yep. After all that, there's definitely no room for "don't die." But hey, aren't our lives great? High divorce rates, crippling credit-card debt and more people in therapy than ever before-talk about the American dream.

By reducing our goals to only the most basic, we can lead happier, more fulfilled lives. By overreaching, we just make ourselves unhappy.


In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff wrote, "From the state of the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work, odd as that may appear to others at times. As Piglet put it in Winnie the Pooh, 'Pooh hasn't much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right.'"


I know what you're thinking--"But I can't be like Pooh! My brain isn't filled with fluff!" (and to all you overexerted pre-meds out there, jumping up and down, begging to be asked what, exactly, our brains are filled with--in accordance with my new credo of underachievement, I've given up on trying to reach you).


You don't have to be simple to simplify. Even the important and powerful could do with reducing--or at least clarifying--their goals.


Take President Nixon. Nixon opened diplomatic relations with China, pursued détente with the Soviet Union, combated domestic inflation and removed the U.S. from the gold standard. But he is primarily remembered for the Watergate scandal. Had Nixon just limited himself to one simple goal--say, "don't commit malfeasance of office," perhaps--he would have been much better off.


So commit yourself to living a life of non-purpose while in college. Learn to be content with your own mediocrity. Say the Serenity Prayer. Do things because you want to, not because they conform to your 10-year plan. Stop using exclamation points so much. Accept the premise that if your "best" sometimes has to be "good enough," the logical individual saves himself or herself the trouble and just stops at "good" in the first place. Stop seeking success and let success find you.


I'll be honest--as much as I have tried to live by these precepts, I sometimes start daydreaming about being nominated to the Supreme Court and having improbably beautiful children (twins, in fact); but while I was in Washington D.C. this summer, I witnessed an exchange that may have finally convinced me of the importance of keeping a life simple. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee was in the middle of a rather contentious hearing. Back in the anteroom, a Republican staffer noticed that a Democrat staffer had a sour expression on his face.


Their exchange went a little something like this:


Republican: Are you feeling OK? You look a little…off.


Democrat: I'm always upset when our civil liberties are being trampled on.


Republican: (Pause) I was just wondering if you wanted a glass of water.


While I agree it is important to worry about civil liberties, it is also important to maintain proper hydration. When presented with the choice, sometimes it's best to just take the water.





(Published by The Daily Utah Chronicle)

8 comments:

  1. I think the last time I did something because I wanted to was ... Oh crap! I'm one of those resume padders. It's all part of the 10-year plan. And since I want the end result of the 10-year plan I justify my decisions to do all the things I don't want to in the interim and end up stressed and dehydrated. 22-year-old Ru was wise beyond her years. =)

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  2. Love this past article. Isn't saying it so much easier than DOING?

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  3. LOL! This is so so true. We have too many goals and standards. It's stressful trying to keep up in our society. I like your way of thinking. Sage advice.... tho peeps always need a dream.:)

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  4. Pretty sure the overload during my first two years of school is the reason I am now not a graduate of Standford Law.

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  5. Love this!! Would have loved this five years ago (when I was in college), but as so many pressures still exist, it was very refreshing!

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  6. Oh the pressure. Totally exists. Totally need to just commit to living with a non-purpose. Because then I can't fail abnd beat myself up for it.

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