As a two-last-named person, I am a big fan of hyphens. Hyphens take a pair of words that you cannot bear to separate, and join them into a beautiful and complementary union. Hyphens make up a large part of my identity: Drafts-Johnson. Singer-songwriter. Sprinter-hurdler. Student-athlete.
The latter has been a dichotomy that I've reflected on a lot in the past month, ever since Oberlin hosted the annual Indoor Track and Field Conference Championship. This was exciting to me for a couple of reasons: first, the home-field advantage. Second, it presented an excellent opportunity for me to show off in front of professors and friends alike. The other captains and myself marketed the event to the best of our ability, designing and hand-delivering invitations to faculty and staff members, creating posters to advertise the event, and guilt-tripping our non-track friends to show up in pointed emails and Facebook invites. The results of these efforts were impressive. The track was packed from the start on Friday until the meet end on Saturday night, and the performances reflected the immense energy that the support brought us. The women's team won their first outright championship, and we emerged with multiple event champions and four National qualifiers. It was a phenomenal weekend, and we couldn't have asked for anything better.
So when I woke up the next morning ready to begin my usual Sunday routine of meetings and homework, I was surprised to find the tight ball of anxiety (one that often develops before big meets) still lodged in my chest. The competition was over, races won, nationals meet qualified. I continued my day in Mudd, but found myself increasingly distracted. I continued the week like this, stumbling through classes, assignments, and workouts alike. At some point, I realized that I was not fully present: a part of me was still fighting to get work done before I left for the Nationals meet, a part of me was still reflecting and celebrating on the past weekend, and another part was looking ahead with anticipation and anxiety to the coming competition.
Now, if there is one hyphenated phrase that I am not a fan of, it is "half-done." Having many interests and the ability to pursue all of these interests creates a situation where I often have to turn down jobs or activities that I love. This is a common dilemma for Oberlin students - the school attracts students with an array of talents and interests. The alluring siren call of a new club or project is often too enticing to turn away, but I have seen many an Oberlin student stranded on the unforgiving and jagged rocks of over-commitment and burn-out. Part of my own identity holding so many hyphens dictates an immense balancing act: Although I do not consider being a varsity athlete as a limiting factor to my Oberlin experience, it is certainly a time commitment that requires careful planning.
Once I realized that I was half-doing track and half-doing my school work, I went about remedying the situation before it bled over into the rest of the semester. I talked with my coaches and negotiated some well-earned time off, communicated my schedule with my professors to figure out a plan to get my assignments and midterms done. The week before spring break was the busiest I've experienced, and certainly the most stressful.
The experience of this complex balancing act is an example of what I refer to as my personal "North-South" identity struggle. For those of you who are not familiar to Oberlin's layout, there is an often talked about "North-South" divide on campus. North campus tends to be home to the athletic community of Oberlin, as the recreational facilities and campus gym are located up there. South Campus is close to the conservatory, as well as multiple language and cultural houses. As a result, certain identities and groups tend to cluster on different parts of the campus. People tend to be surprised when I mention that I live on South Campus despite being an athlete, but I find it helpful in separating different parts of my life. I often feel enclosed in the accidental bubble that often forms around my team - we spend long hours practicing and competing together, and they could easily be the only people I spend time with on-campus. Being so far south allows me to have my own space from the team, and nurture the other parts of my identity as an Oberlin student - particularly my interest in languages and my musicality.
The conference meet last month was an excellent way to blend my two worlds. My professors and co-workers were able to see me in a different element than they usually do in the classroom, and my teammates and coaches had the opportunity to meet the other important mentors and friends in my life. Still, the past month has made me realize how much I struggle at times to escape the shadow of my own identity as an athlete. Although running is a huge part of who I am, it often eclipses other parts of my character. One of my friends, who I met while abroad in Chile, recently said to me, "I had no idea that track was such a big part of your life." This validated a lot of the feelings I've had the past month - although my Oberlin identity is rooted in my athleticism, there are other facets to my personhood that only seem to shine in other spaces. In Chile, I was "Lilah the writer"; in high school, I was "Lilah the singer"; at Oberlin I tend to be "Lilah the runner."
All that being said, this mini-identity crisis speaks to the ways that Oberlin has been able to fulfill and nourish so many of my interests. A typical day of mine could include teaching Spanish at the elementary school, running in the afternoon for track, seeing my friend's orchestra concert in the evening, and ending the day reflecting and writing. As I refocus after spring break, I'm thinking about ways I can integrate all of these interests into my honors thesis and other major projects I'm planning for senior year. It might be a stretch, but I know that Lilah Drafts-Johnson the runner-writer-singer-poet-teacher-language learner can do it.
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