Hos: One Moment at a Time
Rome wasn’t built in a day; take a moment to pause and smell the roses.
Yesterday was my 19th birthday.
It’s rather amusing how my birthday seems to sneak up on me — as though it isn’t on the same day each year, as if I haven’t had a whole year to prepare for it. It isn’t even that this birthday is any different from the last — the first one away from home, maybe — but rather that the life that I was leading this time last year barely resembles the one I’m leading now. In fact, I’m almost certain that the one I’ll be leading a year into the future will be even more unrecognizable. I worry, though, that at this rate, my life will pass me by. Already I feel so consumed by it all, so incredibly engrossed in the day-to-day hustle, that I often forget to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture. While there may be so much left to accomplish — and what feels like no time left to do so — it is important that we appreciate each season of our life in order to come to terms with its beauty, happiness and meaning.
This is quite easy to say, but much harder to actually do. I always find myself wanting to live in the moment, but feeling subject to the most existential thoughts. As my birthday approaches, I can’t help but find myself wondering if my 19th is nothing more than another reminder that I’ve spent the past 6,935 days of my life living from one hour to another — minute per minute? Must I have something to show for that time? Certainly, at Dartmouth, time often feels relative; during a 10 week term, a single week can feel like a year and one day as if it were a month — especially if you have to write two nine page papers at the end of it. On the contrary, our recent six week winterim seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye.
Even though time is elusive, many of us still feel a constant, pressing sense of urgency. And even though I’m aware that there is so much to be appreciated in this moment, I can’t help but live in the future. It’s as though, at 19, I only have a limited amount of time left — a feeling that I suspect has only been exacerbated by our perception of time lost to the pandemic. From talking to others, I know that this is a shared sentiment, but why? It seems that everyone is in such a rush to achieve something beyond themselves, but in doing so gets lost in the hustle. But it’s the hustle that kills us. There is no “time” in the realm of hustle culture to appreciate the present. How can we if we’re so focused on the future, living only from weekend to weekend?
It may be true that at the age of 19, Mary Shelley had written the first edition of “Frankenstein,” or that Alexander the Great had conquered the known world by the age of 25, but not everyone needs to be writing the next great American novel — though honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Dartmouth currently is. There shouldn’t be this much pressure to achieve things on some arbitrary, yet commonly held, timeline. This timeline is toxic, and only gains strength as people continue to subscribe to it. Sure, Shelley may have achieved literary success at 19, but Toni Morrison, for example, was 62 when she became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. There is no defined path toward success — although many will try to tell you that there is. I will tell you, though, that the “path” is long and winding, varying in opportunities and challenges, and wholeheartedly unique to one’s own.
But reality is such that even our most valiant attempts at perfection often fall short. We can try our hardest to limit comparisons and stay present in the moment, but one would be foolish to deny that it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. With the ever-growing prominence that social media holds over our lives and the ease with which we can tune into the perfectly curated lives of others, it is almost inevitable that we get swept away in it all. But it is this comparison that leaves us vulnerable to unhappiness, and it’s that unhappiness that encourages us to surrender ourselves to the pressures of hustle culture.
So what is there left to do?
In one of his lectures, philosopher Alan Watts once said, “The meaning of life is just to be alive. It’s so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everyone rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” He’s right. As I reflect on the past 19 years, I’ve come to the realization that things will happen if and when they are meant to. So the pressure that we put on ourselves is for naught. Is our goal to leave a legacy or is it simply just to live in this moment we are given? And if anything, are those two things incompatible?