A couple of weeks ago, I was gazing out at Washington, D.C. from the roof of my friend’s apartment. A few friends and I had spontaneously decided to venture up the many flights of stairs to watch the sun set over the Potomac, the light ever so slightly powdering Georgetown with a touch of rouge. We leaned precariously over the edge, our arms dangling down and the wind whipping our hair in our faces. The air was heavy with humidity. We smelled rain. We didn’t know each other that well, having picked up some interesting personalities along the way, like a nineteen-year-old D.J. from Germany who was in D.C. for a showcase. Someone with an acute sense of the vibes in that moment had the confidence to put on some Marvin Gaye. We pretended to be good dancers until it started drizzling and we decided it was time to take our impromptu party inside.
Yeah, none of that happened. I spent my summer mostly pretending not to know the barista at Starbucks who went to my middle school and trying to get more Fitbit steps than my dad. My summer sure as hell wasn’t plucked from a John Green novel. I didn’t have wild adventures with my idiosyncratic friends, each of whom has a very specific quirk (e.g. Jessica Applebottom collects baby shoes and doesn’t use the letter “g.” She’s random and the main character is in love with her.) and I definitely didn’t meet any German teen DJs along the way.
My summer was fun. It was also stressful and I cried in my car about not knowing anything about my job a few times. Crying about telecommunications is pretty pathetic, but dancing without a care in the world with Gerhard the DJ sounds cool. It sounds like I’m both aloof and spontaneous, and that I’m making the most out of every moment by connecting with real people. I’m really living, and I’m living the life of a young, intriguing thinker: carefree, poetic, colored in soft pastels.
Last year, I wrote my final column on being confined by collegiate coolness. After a summer refreshingly spent hanging out with my wonderfully uncool parents, I still stand by what I said: Delicately balancing aloofness while simultaneously trying for just the right pinch of candor is exhausting. It’s not worth the effort. It’s difficult, but more liberating, to attempt to find your authentic, comfortable self without toeing the line altogether. Instead, be vulnerable enough to fail, and fail hard. I also wrote that young adulthood, and college specifically, is the perfect time for this kind of vulnerability. The transience means audience costs are low; if someone thinks you’re stupid or weird or whatever it is you’re afraid of being, it really doesn’t matter. You will probably never see them after you get your degree.
Vulnerability and authenticity come hand-in-hand, and young adults often incorrectly conflate them with romanticized scenes from a Fox Searchlight film or a Wombats music video. Vulnerability and authenticity come from shedding the idealism surrounding a supposedly cool young-adult experience. I am immediately suspicious of my sentimentalist classmates, the people who insist on living like a romanticized model of an intellectual or artist by reading Proust outside Goldwin Smith or laying in tall grass while playing the banjo and looking at the stars. This self-serious artistic lifestyle seems disingenuous to me. These wild adventures are never as spontaneous as they seem, and the volume of ex post reportage on said adventures only makes their authenticity more suspect.
So, as 5000 eighteen-ish-year-olds find themselves haphazardly plopped in the smelly dorms of North Campus with nothing but a lanyard and the opportunity to blaze their own trail, I suggest doing things you enjoy, rather than things you think you should enjoy in order to be a thinker or an artist or a whatever. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re not itchy in the tall grass from which you’re banjo-playing and stargazing because you think you need to have a carefree romanticized experience to truly live. Maybe you’ll meet Gerhard and have that romantic scene on the roof of an Arlington high rise, but you probably won’t without counterfeiting it. As you become a young adult, appreciate life as it develops organically; you’ll connect with people more deeply and do the things you’ll enjoy. When difficulties strip you of your rose-colored glasses, you’ll be fine. It’s the beauty of living as a realist: Life, sans romanticization, is truly wonderful and truly difficult. Appreciate it all, and never stop trying to be vulnerable and authentic on your own terms.
Pegah Moradi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. All Jokes Aside runs alternate Mondays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.