Sophomore Spotlight: Exploration at Vanderbilt
Thinking about my ability to pursue intellectual stimulation and choose my own path
January 12, 2020
Fireworks, friends and family flooded my social media account over winter break, but celebration wasn’t the only topic on people’s minds. In preparation for 2020, I started to see numerous posts from peers about goals for the new year, whether personal or professional. Some were lighthearted, but I saw a common theme among posts: a desire to “slow down” this year.
Trying to slow down and go with the flow is something I’ve personally tried to work on this past semester. Almost anyone who has met me can tell that I’m more of a planner than spontaneous, so learning to let unexpected opportunities take wind has been challenging. Over break, I was encouraged to see so many of my friends in college, including here at Vandy, striving to be more mindful as well.
Recently, I’ve been pondering how to slow down. Many goals are easier said than done, and I think this is one of them. Especially at a competitive top institution, I often feel somewhat bound to my identity as a Vanderbilt student, and what that implies. To me, being a Vanderbilt student often means focusing on landing a banking internship or consulting job and working to impact the world in some way among many other aspirations. I sometimes feel that these expectations along with academics and extracurriculars prevent me from having the luxury to slow down. On the other hand, I think we have to decide for ourselves whether slowing down is worth it on an individual level. Slowing down can be difficult, but when I make the conscious choice to do so despite constant pressure, I believe it results in a more joyful and fulfilling college experience.
When chatting with one of my suitemates a few weeks ago, I discovered that we both noticed how Vanderbilt students tend to talk more about internships and jobs than what they’re learning about in class. We also both found Vanderbilt students to be more career-minded than our friends from back home who attend other schools. This conversation is just one example of how challenging it can be to slow down at Vanderbilt specifically. However, one of the strengths of students here is their ability to problem-solve and overcome challenges. So, how exactly can we slow down in the midst of college craziness?
One of my favorite TED Radio Hour podcasts makes a distinction between pursuing “passion” versus “curiosity.” Many of us have been told to “find our passion,” which I think causes its fair share of stress and puts a limit on how long it is socially acceptable to explore before settling on one’s life purpose. What I love about this podcast is that Elizabeth Gilbert encourages us to not worry about finding a singular life guiding passion (that will supposedly lead you to the perfect job, career, etc.) but focus on learning and pursuing curiosity. I find this slight adjustment of perspective freeing; it takes the pressure off trying to fit in, and allows you to be your own person, taking your time to explore what is meaningful and inspiring to you.
This talk partially answers the main question I’ve been pondering regarding this topic of “slowing down”: what can we do, on a practical level, to achieve a greater sense of balance and happiness that many of us are seeking? In addition to shifting our focus toward our interests, I think being forgiving of yourself and recognizing your hard work is also important in a quest to slow things down. Oftentimes, our most challenging experiences are the ones that help us grow.
Moreover, I find keeping things in perspective helps me slow down. Just how college applications felt important and all encompassing in high school, I think many aspects of college can feel the same way in the moment. Whenever I find myself starting to worry about anything, I try to ask: Will this matter a few weeks from now? Oftentimes, the answer is no, or maybe only a little bit.
I want to encourage you to “slow down” in your own way, whether that be resisting being swept down common Vanderbilt career paths, or branching out a little more knowing it’s the effort that counts. Slowing down is something I want to continue to work on this year, and I hope you’ll join me.