I get bitchy when I don’t run. Not that I’m not normally obnoxiously stubborn, irritatingly sarcastic, and unnecessarily loud-mouthed, but when I don’t run, even my best friends want to send me blathering into oncoming traffic.
It was in this kind of a mood that I sat in my first philosophy class of Second Year, fidgeting like a pent-up little Asian grenade. Everything was irritating me already; making the wet, exhausting trek from my flat, located in the worst of the badlands, about as fun as trying to navigate around all the construction in the quad, just to end up squished in an overheated room that smelled like musty carpets.
Then the actual lecture began and my mood darkened – she started talking about philosophy in that pretentious way that makes her out to be somehow more enlightened than the general population, just because she contemplates moral righteousness and questions whether anything is real. So when she asked if there were any questions, I may have raised my hand and blurted out, “Why does it matter? Why are you asking these questions if there’s no possible way that anyone could truly know what happens after death? Who cares if this world is actually a computer simulation and nothing is real? It’s not productive to wonder, so why bother?” It was in that moment of stunned silence after I clamped my mouth shut that I realised I should probably switch modules and maybe go for a run.
As my feet pounded out a steady rhythm along the winding coastal path, I thought about my earlier outburst with a mixture of confusion and slight mortification. I usually had nothing against philosophy; after a few glasses (or bottles) of wine, you could often find me disputing the existence of time outside of our construct, or passionately supporting my own system of morals independent of religious influence. Or rather, I realised, those were activities I engaged in last year as a Fresher with little responsibilities and an agenda to reek havoc.
High School had been a brutal cycle of mountains of schoolwork, hours of extracurricular activities, and relentless sport practices; physically exhausted and socially isolated, I danced into first year with a one clear goal: to have fun. Classes needed to be passed, but priorities were placed on making friends, drinking on weekdays, engaging in plenty of walks of shame, and trying to be happy for once without worrying about leading every society I joined or getting the highest grade in every course.
Fresher’s week was a stressful time of trying to persuade all these beautiful people with gorgeous accents that I’m not just another American who studies IR, but a girl who knows how to have fun and tell a great story. I couldn’t pass up a chance to start over in a new country and ditch the classic workaholic pace for a slower, more whiskey-filled jog. At the end of the year, I stumbled unevenly away with plenty of embarrassing stories of shirtless-ness in the Union, mascara-ruining sob sessions outside my crush’s house, and the experience of being thrown out of a club in Dundee.
As my almost-totally-sober summer slowly flushed the obscene levels of alcohol out of my system, I started to apply for internships and jobs with a horrified realisation that my resume was looking quite empty. High-school-me looked brilliant (pardon my lack of modesty), but university-me hadn’t really done much at all; I doubted my employers would accept “able to down 17 shots of tequila” as a deal-sealing skill. After a few meetings with high-powered women in my dad’s company, I remembered all those goals I had set for myself years ago, visions of changing the world and becoming a published author simultaneously. I was trying so hard to be someone bold and reckless that I had forgotten how to balance that with being driven and motivated (by more than just a vodka bottle).
So, I stormed into second year with a different sort of goal: to be productive. My iPhone became a businessman’s Blackberry, notes overflowing with different projects I had to undertake and assignments I had already agreed to do; my Gmail app helped me juggle three university emails, two for sports and one for me. I took initiative to expand the roles I currently had, to take on any new ones when people dropped out, and to always know what had to be done, by whom, and by what date. I set long-term goals, got a job working PR, started networking, and finally got around to using my writing skills for more than drafting long, angry poems about emotionally unavailable boys. Fresher’s week was fun without the pressure of having to impress anyone; I knew who I was, what I needed to do, and had no time for meaningless distractions.
It was in this mental tornado of activity that the philosophy lecture found me and irked me with its suggestion that sometimes we study things for the sake of the subject itself; unlike my new, productive mantra, it argued that even things without purpose have intrinsic value, so we shouldn’t reduce life down to its mere utilitarian properties. At that moment, probably thinking about my to-do list, I couldn’t comprehend how this philosophy lecture was contributing to my future. I didn’t need the class; my time was not being used efficiently.
Eyes watering from the biting, North Sea breeze, I turned back towards my secluded house. I knew I had to switch out of philosophy and into something useful, like management. My friend had told me earlier about this course and about the entrepreneurship and creativity involved; that it helped develop one’s enterprising skills whilst imparting knowledge about markets and what it takes to succeed as a small business. The coursework gave you a chance to come up with a business proposal as a group and make it work and a project fair at the end of the semester supplied you with the chance to make money off of your idea – if you could sell it. It marked the difference between Fresher-me and the new and improved version; first-year Jess would have been afraid of this class taking too much time away from socialising. Second-year me couldn’t wait to tackle the challenge of being innovative and persuasive.
I’m not saying there’s not a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc waiting for me when I finish this article, or that next Sinners, I won’t end up in nothing but jeans and a bra; I’m saying that this year I’m not here to only enjoy the world as it spins on around me. This time, I’m determined to shape it, move it, and sign my name all over it.
*The content of Perspective articles, as with all articles posted on the Tribe, reflects solely the views of the authors. The opinions expressed are not those of the Tribe as a publication or necessarily those of any other member of the editorial and/or writing staff*