Embracing the Unexpected

Peggy Li, Columnist

I once had a conversation on a school bus with the resident “bad boy” (or idiot) of my high school. He was the kind of kid who didn’t turn in homework on time and played 2048 in class on the days he actually managed show up. But despite these flaws, at the tender age of 15 he was able to impart some wisdom upon me: “You know, there’s no point in actually worrying because life will catch you off guard either way. You might as well just do what you want and react when the problems come up.” I, of course, didn’t really listen–back then I didn’t want to be the fool I thought he was. But now, I think back fondly on his words and wonder whether or not they could be useful to mull over once again.

We like to think, as people, that we have a great degree of control over our lives. There are a lot of people who think, “as long as I work hard, I can graduate in three years, find a job at Google, marry a great spouse and live happily every after with two kids.” But I find that as we get older, these prophecies turn out to be about as true as those websites that offer outlandish miracles like male pregnancy. Much like we can’t control the circumstances and situations of our birth, we have only slightly more control over the way we lead our lives.

I’m not trying to say that we have no agency whatsoever. Should I randomly choose one day to devote myself exclusively to the study of chemistry, I’m sure my ability and knowledge would improve. But what I can’t control is whether or not there will be a random chemical leak in the science building that scars me for life. It turns out that, in regard to the most impactful life variables, we can literally do nothing to prepare. We can only accept what happens and make the best of the life we lead after the fact.

I think people especially forget this when they’re stressed all the time. You know those people. The classmates you ceaselessly run into at the library, who always have some essay or assignment they haven’t started, some class that they’re almost failing, or a test that they haven’t studied for. And yet, they usually have enough time to tell you all this as if they’re in a competition as to see whose life could fall to pieces most dramatically. Or what about those people that have some constant underlying fear they won’t reach the goals they’ve set up for themselves and end up an unsteady pile of pure failure. These people are preventing themselves from living properly.

While stress is almost a defining characteristic of the college experience, to most sane souls it is not enjoyable at all. It prevents people from experiencing life. For those people who are constantly worried about the assignments, I know it’s cliché, but it’s time to stop worrying and start working–there really is no miracle method to alleviate stress. The work must get done. And for the ambitious-minded students who aspire to do everything but somehow find themselves continuously falling short, it’s important to remember that life can be good. Yes, what you do now affects the future, but also remember that a huge percentage of life variables are outside of our control–you can accept this or drive yourself crazy. Just don’t rob yourself of your waking moments–you’ll only find that your future is not exactly what you had in mind.