March 24, 2013

KARR-KAITIN: Thinking About Transitions

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As a senior, graduating in a few short months, I have found myself engaged in the same sort of conversation over and over again.

People ask what I’m doing next year, lament graduation, discuss what being out in the “real world” will be like, and sometimes even express joy at the opportunity to move far beyond Cayuga’s waters. All of these conversations are initially little more than surface level, but quite frequently they have become far more profound.

A typical conversation might go something like:

Friend: Hey, what are you doing next year?

Me: Teach For America.

Friend: Cool.

Me: Yeah.

Awkward pause

Friend: So, do you believe that you’re a moral person whose choices properly reflect the gift of life you were lucky enough to receive?

Me: Boy, that escalated quickly.

Okay, so that’s probably a little bit more sensational than a normal conversation, but you catch my drift. As we move closer and closer toward graduation, we begin thinking about the kind of life we want to live and the kind of people we want to be. Oftentimes, these conversations actually lead to tangible shifts in behavior.

A midlife crisis is perhaps the most obvious example of a transition that ushers in behavioral changes, but think about the countless people we know who took the transition to college as an opportunity to become a different, or even better, person. Sometimes when we pause and take stock of our behavior, we discover the bouts of selfishness, cruelty, boorishness or hedonism that all people are prone to. By identifying these traits, we can work to correct them.

It’s been said that, during periods of transition, a person’s consciousness turns toward such higher-level thoughts and dialogues. It’s like a swimmer coming up for air, pausing and taking in the totality of the world around him or her before choosing a destination and plunging back underwater.

However, I’ve also noticed a general unwillingness to have these deeper conversations, as if discussions of our departure somehow hasten its arrival. That too makes sense; why dwell on it?

It makes sense to want to ignore any newfound thoughtfulness. Deciding who and what we want to be are topics of far greater weight than whether or not you’re excited that Kendrick Lamar is performing at Slope Day (for the record, I’m in favor of it).

But transition periods have not come along very frequently in our lives thus far, and after college, their occurrences are even more rare. So, seniors, it is my proposition that we use these next few months to allow our brains to examine where we are heading and how we feel about that.

It has been my experience that many college students use their youth as a blanket exemption from self-examination. I do it. It is easy to dismiss considerations of whether or not I’m living a moral life by simply reminding myself that I’m nothing more than an undergraduate whose concerns are graduating and having a good time.

The problem with this train of thought is that it’s a difficult one to escape from. Once we graduate from either college or graduate school, we are expected to move into the working world, but as young twenty-somethings working all the time and trying to relive our glory days, we are again presented with an easy out from any sort of introspection. We’re young, we’re busy, we’re living paycheck-to-paycheck trying to use whatever free time we have to either sleep or socialize.

These last few months may be the best time out of the next ten years for any of us to take stock of things, to decide what kind of people we want to be — whether we want to be self-centered egotists or compassionate humanists.  It would be preachy and presumptuous for me to tell you what your self-examination should look like, I only ask that, as we progress through this particular transition period, don’t fight the impulse to think about who you are, what you want to contribute to the world and what’s really important.

Noah Karr-Kaitin is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at nkarrkaitin@cornellsun.com. Plain Hokum appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin