September 18, 2022

POGGI | In Search of Something Smaller

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Like most Cornell students, I have always been told to strive for something greater. I’ve come to believe that I should try to see the world, chase my dream job and raise a family. These feelings of striving, of wanting, are always greatest for me at the start of a new semester. As I look through my course enrollment, I wonder if my major is right for me, if it gets me to a job that I want, if it does good in the world. When I search for clubs and organizations, I foster fantasies of networking and connections, or of lifelong friends and cherished communities. Even socially, I find that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Eager to expand my circles, I push to host and attend more events, and I try my best to push down feelings of fatigue and boredom.

I almost prefer prelim season. Between the innumerable calls to my mom, in which I weigh the options between two minors or ask her advice on studying abroad, I find my mind racing about “what if”s and “what could be”s. The most tangible consequences of this existential milling-about are the series of advising meetings I set up at the beginning of each semester. These meetings usually only create more questions than they answer; no advisor can tell you what you want to do with your life.

I’ve now reached the point in the semester where I give up on grand planning. Despite the calls and meetings and internal debates, I never actually come to conclusions or gain better clarity about my life’s path, so I’ve decided to abandon that endeavor for now. I’m not updating my LinkedIn until 2023 at the least. I certainly am not joining any more clubs or seeking out more extracurricular responsibilities. Instead, I’ve decided to devote my semester to finding something smaller.

It’s cliché, but it’s true: a life spent cherishing the present is much richer than one spent planning for the future. I think it’s time most of us reflect on the over-achieving, go-getting, hyper productive mindsets that brought us to Cornell, and see that there should also be space for enjoying the trivial and the mundane. My “something smaller”s at the moment include trying to watch T.V. without being on my phone, prioritizing slow but consistent running and visiting places in Ithaca I haven’t been to before. These goals are small and inconsequential, but striving towards them allows me to enrich my quality of life without adding stress about my future. 

My other “something smaller”s are not goals, but rather routines that I make a conscious effort to appreciate, despite their predictability. Last semester, I bought myself coffee and a pastry every Friday from Gimme in Gates before my statistics lab. I am usually more money conscious, but that small, predictable moment of enjoyment ensured that I always went to my Friday classes and always had something to which I could look forward. It wasn’t an influencer-worthy self-care practice, nor the best move for my bank account, but appreciating the small routine brought me happiness while I was working towards further, less tangible rewards.

College is a four-year game, and we play it in the dark. Most of us won’t know our grades until the end of the semester and won’t know our post-grad plans until we graduate. Even then, the ways in which people and opportunities fit into our lives won’t be revealed until they’ve already happened. Searching for something greater is an important motivator, but the future is unknown and our efforts to micromanage it are in vain. Without accepting reckless abandon for our future selves, finding joy in the small is the best way to appreciate and celebrate the present. Whether that be achievable, inconsequential goals or routines of self-appreciation, the search for something smaller slows an overeager mind and allows for full enjoyment of the now. So go be meaningless and impactless and frivolous and indulgent — I promise your future self will find time for the “greater” things.

Julia Poggi is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Outbox runs every other Sunday this semester.