Here at Boston College, I’m a part of the Emerging Leaders Program, or ELP. It consists of 50 freshmen and 10 sophomore “facilitators,” former “ELPers” who serve as mentors and friends to the freshmen.
One of my favorite experiences as an ELP freshman was our trip to Camp Burgess, a sort of introductory welcome to the program. Thus, I could not be more excited when I found out in March that, as a sophomore facilitator, I would be returning to Camp Burgess with my own group of freshmen to lead at the end of August.
But as I reflect on my trip to Camp Burgess two weeks ago, I can’t help but feel a twinge of regret. I spent the majority of the two days with my mind on other things—I was worried about how much unpacking there was left to be done in my dorm, concerned about the increased academic course load sophomore year had in store for me, eager to explore my study abroad options.
The only thing I didn’t seem to think about was how long I was at Camp Burgess. Before I knew it, I was chugging back to campus. My months of anticipation had culminated in what seemed like the fastest 36 hours I’d ever experienced.
I had been so excited to come to college going into freshman year, and was thrilled when I was given the freedom, independence, and plethora of opportunities BC presented to me last year. I gradually settled into a routine—I finished my work, took care of my extracurricular commitments, worked out, and went out with my friends on the weekends. But within a few months, I was looking forward to going home to California and seeing my family again. When I did finally see my family, I thought of my friends back at BC. And it went on and on, from one event to the next, one phase of my life to the next. I feel like all of us are always waiting for the next thing now. We’re always anticipating, we’re always hoping, we’re always looking forward to whatever is next. We seek constant gratification—and the problem is that when we become accustomed to this, we lose the sensation of satisfaction that each new event or occurrence brings us. We become preoccupied with the future to the point where we forget the present we live in.
I remember calling my sister recently, who remains one of the most motivated and intelligent people I know. As a senior in college dreaming of becoming a doctor, her time is fully consumed applying for medical school and scheduling interviews. What struck me is when she discussed how desensitized she has become, even to her own success.
Throughout college, she has worked tirelessly for internship opportunities and research grants. But for each accomplishment, acceptance, and scholarship, the temporary thrill she felt would eventually wane to a sour taste of unfulfillment and a desire for more.
The collegiate culture now seems to emanate a pervasive, constant sense of urgency—to apply for more, to achieve more, to become more “successful” in life. And perhaps that is not all bad. Competition drives us to challenge ourselves to work hard and to set ever rising goals. A modern, increasingly competitive workforce demands determination and perseverance. But this continuous cycle also creates a sense of insatiable longing, day-to-day banality, and ultimately, an utter feeling of emptiness.
The natural assumption of it all is that the future will bring more happiness, whether that’s in the form of relationships, professional endeavors, or money. But it’s a dangerous slope, because if we’re always looking ahead, how will we know when we’ve done enough? How will we know when we’ve checked enough boxes, when we’ve made enough money, and when we’re even happy at all?
The future we anticipate and work so hard for often passes us without getting it the acknowledgment it deserves.
If I travelled back in time to before I left for Camp Burgess this year, I would remind myself of this. I would stop worrying and retell myself that I’ll deal with everything eventually, one day at a time. I would embrace and enjoy it, knowing that Camp Burgess was something I refused to simply toss into a file cabinet of memories.
We can’t let ourselves grow numb and indifferent to the present. The emotions we feel every day, the challenges we triumph, the experiences and routine we treasure, the people we meet. Yes—these are all things that inspire and propel us to do more. But even more than that, they ground us. They are worth identifying, appreciating, and living because they give us a sense of belonging, pleasure, fulfillment. It lets us keep our sanity because we know there might not be an ultimate future or endgame that we work towards—but that’s ok, because that might just be the whole point of it all.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff
Eric Zhang is an op-ed contributor for The Heights. He can be reached at [email protected]