A Mad Dash to the Finish Line, revisited
*This blog post was originally written in the spring of 2017, after I finished my junior semester. In the "mad dash" to finish up finals and my track season, I completely forgot to post it. I found it as I was writing a similar piece to summarize my senior fall semester, and decided to post it now with an addition at the end.
Junior year ended, quite literally, in a sprint to the finish. Two weeks after I took my last final, I headed to the NCAA Division III Championships with three of my teammates for one last track meet. At this year’s awards banquet, we were fortunate enough to hear from Ekaterini Stefanidi, the 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist and 2017 World Champion of the women’s pole vault. She spoke to the hundreds of anxious athletes at our banquet about the most important part of track and field: the journey.
Stefanidi reminded us that the competition over the next few days was just another meet, a nice bookend to our seasons, but nothing more. The important part, she told us, had already happened. Had we enjoyed our season as a whole? The training, the teammates, the highs and, especially, the lows?
This lesson has been iterated to me before, but from the mouth of an Olympic champion, I better understood the weight of her words. The fact is, the National Championship meet has never been very fun for me. I have trouble eating and sleeping the night before my race and think countless self-sabotaging thoughts the day of competition. Then I race for literally a minute, and breathe a huge sigh of relief that’s it finally over. However, looking back at the entirety of the season, there are countless highlights from smaller meets and happy memories from working with my teammates and coaches. The All-American trophy is pretty, but Stefanidi’s right – the journey is the important and most enjoyable part.
Almost two months after the conclusion of my junior year, I finally feel that I have the space to reflect. With the importance of process in mind, I’ve asked myself, “Did I enjoy this semester as a whole?” As in track and field, there are certainly objective ways to measure the success of my semester – my GPA or my summer job, for example. Yet, when I think about the journey itself, I remember the hours I spent writing proposals for an honors project I would ultimately not pursue, discussing tutoring options with a professor when I struggled in his class, and several difficult but important moments of self-advocacy in professional spaces and personal relationships. The challenges and setbacks of my semester were the most rewarding, but there is little recognition of them on my transcript or resume. There is also little acknowledgment of the last frantic month of the semester, one of my most stressful periods at Oberlin. To answer Stefanidi’s question: I am unbelievably proud of my past semester and everything I achieved during it; I am also certain that I do not want another semester like it.
In my last year at Oberlin, I hope to spend less time stressing about academics and more time enjoying the journey. Parents, professors, and potential employers – don’t worry, this in no way means that I intend to slack off. Rather, I choose to channel more of myself into fewer endeavors, and nurture those efforts instead of overcommitting and overextending myself. I’ve begun this process this summer by getting a headstart on two fellowships that I’ve been passionate about since my freshman year, and I’m excited to take a slightly lighter course load in the fall. When I walk across the stage at Commencement in less than one year’s time, I want to be able to confidently say that I enjoyed my journey at Oberlin.
With first semester of senior year done, it’s interesting to review the hopes and expectations I had for it at the end of my junior year. True to my words, I tried to go easy on myself this semester. However, I also picked up that Honors project that I mentioned deserting earlier, became a TA for a course, and underestimated the time commitments of other various responsibilities. Just like last spring, finals week this December was another mad dash to the finish line – but this time, I felt more in control and more passionate about the work I was completing. The workload that I ended up taking on this semester leaves me with just two classes that I need to take to graduate next spring, so I am anticipating a lighter amount of work and more time to enjoy the things I love about Oberlin. Will I actually follow through with this promise to myself? Stay tuned.