I was in a department store today with friend. As we went to check out, the gentleman at the register inquired if we were in college. After we told him we had just graduated he replied, "College. Best years of your life." Way to put a damper on my Sunday, Old Man...
College is certainly the most unique four years of one's life. The freedom granted to an 18 year old undergraduate is an invitation for either great success or great failure. Few scenarios will present the opportunity to open as many doors and forge as many relationships as does the life of an undergraduate. Campus life is perhaps the last chance for a young adult to evade commitment. If you don't like your concentration, switch. If you are unhappy with something, protest. If you find you're not passionate or do not enjoy the extracurricular work you are doing, do something different. The "real world" is not so accomodating.
I work in an office. Unlike the college semester, I will not switch offices every semester. The number of people I have the opportunity to create friendships with is limited. It certainly takes more effort. If I did not like my job, I could quit. What if I didn't like my next job? Or the one after that? It would be fairly difficult to get hired. The timeline for achieving a position of leadership in this world is much longer than three years. Yet, I do not believe the discrepency in lifestyles qualifies college as the "best years of my life" (though they were amazing).
In college, we are always anticipating what is next. The next step is always clear and tangible in every aspect of life. Scheduled exams serve as a measure of your acadmic achievement. Groups and organizations have regular meetings, annual events, and scheduled recruitment periods. There is always excitement for the next date party or formal or Thursday night and whatever bar. In the "real world" there is clear "next" nor is there a timetable for it. I do not know how long I will stay at my job (I hope it will be a place I call home for many years). I do not know when or how I will meet people. Anticipation has been replaced by uncertainty, and that is the surprising virtue of life after college.
Saturday afternoon I watched Alex Rodriguez become the youngest player in history to hit 500 home runs. I watched the Yankees pound the Royal's pitching staff for 16 runs and 21 hits. And yet, neither contributed to the day's magic.
It was the fourth inning. Our seats were on the first base line in the shade. It was an absolutely perfect day outside. I had a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other. My friend and I were discussing everything from finance, to politics, to relationships. In that moment, there was nothing in the world that could have brought me more satisfaction; there was nothing that could have been more enjoyable or more serene. Baseball, a hot dog, a beer, and a great friend - nothing could have made the day more perfect.
My excessive enjoyment from a Saturday afternoon at the ballpark sparked some self-reflection. Was this a sign that I was maturing? No. Definitely not. I came to the conclusion that for as long as I can remember, I've been running. In college, there was always somewhere to run to - a party, an exam, a football game, an election, a big meeting. The lifestyle and culture on a college campus gears us to look forward. We are trying to promote change in the world tomorrow. We are preparing ourselves for life after our undergraduate years. Part of the University of Michigan's mission is to "enrich the future". We were so busy worrying about tomorrow and the moments that we now call memories that simple pleasures in life were an afterthought.
Now there is nowhere to run, so we walk. Life is still busy. There is still anticipation, but anticipation for what? Sometimes we know what's next, but sometimes we don't. Even if we do know what is next, we're not sure when or how it will approach us. This uncertainty is new, because we've never experienced it before. However, it allows to enjoy a sunny day, or a walk in the park, or a conversation with an old friend in a way we never have before. Maybe uncertainty isn't so bad...