You’ve got three assignments due tomorrow, a full slate of Zoom meetings for the rest of the day, half a dozen internship applications still yet to be sent into the career portal void, a small mountain of laundry assembling around the foot of your bed and social plans tonight which you don’t really have time for—it’s that point of the semester. Luckily, you’ve had your two meager wellness days which have certainly recharged your batteries in much the same way that scooping a cup of water out of the ocean will stop rising sea levels. Buckle up, it’s the last month of the semester.
As we enter these next few chaotic weeks, it’s important to pause and take a step back before diving into the academic fray. Beyond taking the time for the usual self-care of buying a new succulent and an embarrassing amount of frozen food at Trader Joe’s, we need to take a moment to recognize the mental consequences of the stress to come.
At a time of the semester which demands an inordinate focus on the future — studying for upcoming exams, writing papers, applying to summer opportunities and game planning for pre-enroll — it’s easy to lose sight of the present. A famous Harvard study once found that humans “spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind wandering typically makes them unhappy.” At this time of year, that percentage feels low.
As we’re drawn to fixate on impending deadlines, it draws us into a state of perpetual anxiety and discontent. We withdraw into ourselves, focus on the to-do list on our computer screens and the cacophony of events crammed into our Google Calendars. We ignore the little things which make Cornell so valuable — spontaneous, silly outings with friends, forays into areas of Ithaca you never knew existed, the dozens upon dozens of fascinating lectures by visiting thinkers. We don’t notice when winter turns to spring.
And before you know it, the semester is over. The entire school year is over. You’ve finished every exam, every paper, every internship application. You’ve crossed every “t” and dotted every “i.” You really did it! And what are you left with? Exhaustion. And the realization that you’re going to miss all those wonderful little things you ignored this past month until the fall. Or if you’re a senior, you come to the dismaying realization that you’re never going to have them again.
This perpetual looking forward is terrible for us. I’m not here to dole out some pollyanna message that you should slow down and smell the roses. It’s a stressful time in a supercharged, stressful semester. It’s a time which incentives us to look towards the future even more than usual as we all hope for a return to semi-normalcy with more and more Americans getting vaccinated. But amidst this drawing of our eyes to the horizon, make sure to look down at where you’re walking. Don’t spend almost 50 percent of your life thinking about exams, papers and applications which you’re not going to remember, let alone care about, a year from now.
Enjoy the fact that you have one month left. One month left at one of the greatest universities in the world. One month left with your motley crew of beloved friends. One month left to spend on the slope without having to wear a coat anymore. One month left to live in the moment because each of these moments, for all their stresses, all their imperfections, all their uncertainties and insecurities, is yours and yours alone.
Or to put it another way: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while — you could miss it.”
Andrew Lorenzen is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Tuesday this semester.