When I realized, at age eleven, that I was capable of much and that much was expected of me, I was struck with urgent concern about living up to my potential. Or rather: about not living up to it. I am more mellow now than I was at eleven, but I still think that the greater the opportunity, the greater the tragedy when it is wasted, and so, when I'm faced with an opportunity as potentially life-changing as a Winter Term (not to mention four of them!), it is natural for me to worry that I am not making the most of it.
This worry is compounded by the fact that both of my projects thus far - circus and a work exchange - have been concerned with developing parts of myself that are not directly connected to my academics or career. In a community of people who are passionate about their academics and careers, it's easy to feel that it's cool if you want to do other things (because if there's one thing Obies can respect, it's your preferences), but internships and research are where it's at. So me and my "I want to use my body!" projects feel in need of some justification.
Here's what it boils down to: sound mind, sound body.
It's not just a question of needing a brain break, or of wanting to be in better shape. It's more, even, than the fact that the pursuit of health and happiness are nearly beyond the need for justification. It has to do with the belief that if I am to grow, I must do it as a whole person; to educate only one part of myself would be like training only a single muscle. I must educate all of my body as well as all of my brain - and my emotions, my interpersonal skills (introverts, holla!), my good judgment, and so on and so forth. I must, in short, improve my entire person if I am to consider myself an entirely improved person.
And there's this: we intellectuals are careful about what we put into our minds because we know that mental change is inevitable, and that if we don't pay close attention, the change will not be one of our choosing. I think that bodies, too, change sneakily, and that we should strive to keep them at our high standards the same way we strive to keep our brains changing in an improving way. After all, I am not at Oberlin because I am excellent in any one thing; I am at Oberlin because I demand excellence of every thing, including my body.
But of course, I stay active for reasons beyond a thirst for improvement. The endorphins do wonders for my stress levels; I have more energy and my body's appetites are healthier when I get exercise; I can focus more when I haven't been sitting in one place all day; it's great fun; I relish the challenge; the mental flexibility required to overcome physical hurdles is useful for all things cognitive as well; there's a special community that grows around exhausting yourself together, especially if you're doing things like acrobatic tricks that require you to put a lot of faith in the people you're working with; the list goes on. In other words, being good to your body is good for much more than just your body.
This, dear readers, is why, when I tell people that I went to acrobatics school for Winter Term and did a work exchange on a farm the Winter Term before that (which, by the way, changed my life by changing the way I think about food), I don't mind having to explain myself. I love my projects as much as my college, because what I do with my Januaries is really just an extension of what I am doing here: namely, growing into and equipping myself to have the life I want, and internalizing as much knowledge in as many ways as I can while I'm at it. Here's a quote from my application to Oberlin: "If your opinion or perception of the world has not changed, then you have not learned. Conversely, if you have learned, then you have changed. It is in changing that we grow, and a place like Oberlin presents a wealth of opportunities for such change." I came here to change purposefully, and by that I mean learn with abandon, because those are two sides of the same coin.
So no, I haven't been obsessively competing for the internships that will look the best on my résumé, but I do know my way around a Chinese pole, and I have no regrets about that. I mean, it's pretty hard to regret doing what you love.
This is all of the Obies who did the SANCA Winter Term project, plus all of the coaches at SANCA right now who graduated from Oberlin. Two things: Look how many of us there are! And look how much we are grinning.
Responses to this Entry
Ida, thanks again for your perspectives. Even in a place like Oberlin, which I think is less competitive than many colleges, I do sense a push for highly intellectual or prestigious projects. I am glad you have pursued things that feel important to you, regardless. I bet you have some awesome muscles now.
Posted by: Nora on February 4, 2012 4:46 PM
You're so good about commenting now! What a friend. And, yes, I do have some quite awesome muscles. Most of them are still brain muscles, but my triceps are slowly catching up...
Posted by: Ida on February 6, 2012 6:37 PM
"Here's what it boils down to: sound mind, sound body."
Posted by: Will on February 6, 2012 9:05 PM
You summed it up with this: "It's pretty hard to regret doing what you love."
Winter term is for all kinds of development. If you want to excel, winter term is a good time to put the hours (and sweat -- in your case, quite literally!) into something you want to become excellent at.
(OMG I recognize so many good people in your photo! Yay SANCA/Oberlin overlap!!)
Posted by: Ma'ayan on February 7, 2012 4:56 PM
How did I not see this as soon as it came out?! I have been waiting for you to say more about 'the thinking behind the muscles'. Obviously SANCA also provides a new way of learning in community. Being deliberate in one's actions is a joy in itself and having a selection of choices and then making your own should make everybody smile.
Posted by: Muriel on February 8, 2012 10:05 PM
"Here's what it boils down to: sound mind, sound body."
Shades of generations of philosophers nod*, each according to his predeliction: smugly, with relief, proudly, speculatively, encouragingly, hopefully, with QEDish finality.
But they all nod.*
*except, of course, where they don't
Posted by: p. on February 10, 2012 2:54 PM
Ida, this is one of the posts I loved and then (unconscionably and inexplicably) did not comment on. I feel like this too, albeit less athletically, and it's why I'm so glad there's a Winter Term. I used to think WT was designed to prevent us from going stir-crazy on a cold, harsh campus when some of us would rather be somewhere sunny. I think I missed the point, though. I think it's to prevent us from going stir-crazy on a campus with hundreds of opportunities for all kinds of growth, but an overriding focus on just the one. I bet our retention rate would drop dramatically without a month to use farming, training for the circus, campaigning, building, creating, thinking, travelling, or dreaming ... there's so much to do!
Relatedly, I kind of want to meet age-eleven-Ida. If this is mellow-Ida, age-eleven-Ida must have been terrifying. In a good way.
Posted by: Griff on October 5, 2012 11:04 AM
Leave a Comment