Chapter 4: “Optimism” vs. “Realism”: Epic Battle of the Universe
[Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Brown ’13, Jessie Lillis ’13, Kyle Ruedinger ’13, and Amy Browender ’13 are writing alternating monthly entries for the Ripon College Newsletter chronicling their post-graduation experiences. We hope you enjoy their perspectives on Life After Ripon!]
If you’re like me, Winter Break usually starts out by ceremoniously restating heartfelt vows to be productive this break, “oh virtuous, guiding sense of productivity, shine brightly on me, and I will be good and industrious.” This is then followed by a long list of ambitious goals: teach myself a new language, get ahead on reading for next semester, write some short stories, mend my pants, work out, revise my resume, visit friends, help mom organize and clean the house, spend time with family, etc. The creation of this list is somewhat based on realistic expectations, but mostly on flippantly added goals.
Well, it’s week three now and what have I accomplished? The last two things on that list and some reading, and I put on my workout clothes, so that counts for something. Am I surprised in my divergence from steadfast goals? Not a bit. Given the consistency of this “make ambitious list of things to do over break, never reach 50% completion, get back to school and feel frustrated with myself for not getting more done” pattern, the chance of me veering from that pattern is so small that it’s almost guaranteed I will never counteract it. I mean seriously, of all the people I know, I probably know myself the best.
I think this habit of making lofty goals comes from wanting to ensure that I have a purpose. Therefore, if I just make more tasks for myself than I will ever accomplish, there will always be something to aim for. In fact, if I ever did finish my list of goals, I half expect that some rendition of the witch scene from the Wizard of Oz would happen involving me clutching an entirely scratched off list of items and yelling “I’m melting!” as I sink dramatically into the floor. Unlikely? Maybe. The only problem I see with my “make goals, don’t complete them” plan is the distracted, moping scene that actually does follow from not completing goals. It goes something like this: return from break to the list of textbooks I should have preordered, loads of laundry, and my list of uncompleted goals staring me in the face. This is all followed by a defeated sense of personal failure.
However, this year I’ve decided that is not going to happen. Not that I’ll get more done, just that the whole “feel disappointed in the things I didn’t do” won’t happen. Instead the new motto is going to be: I can make myself as many outlandish goals as I can think up, but there will be no languishing in despair when I don’t end up doing them. There are a lot of things we could do in our lives, a lot. But when it comes down to it, you simply can’t do everything. It’s a common story in my job for a student to come in feeling overwhelmed by the jobs they could do, and realistically they could do a lot of different jobs. However, at some point you just have to pick an option and try it.
Sometimes though, not all options are laid out cleanly in a to-do list format, some options never make it on the list. Other options seem to fall out of the sky and land right on top of everything else, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Last year brought a mix of both. Some opportunities just fell out of nowhere and obliterated my contemporary to-do list for better or worse, and others had to be chased down cross country with a bow and arrow. Whatever happens this year, I’ll keep my list of things to accomplish in-hand, but maybe not worry too much if by the end of the year my list of actual accomplishments looks completely different.
Elizabeth H. Brown ’13
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