Every Friday morning, I like to pick up a copy of the New York Times and read it while I eat breakfast. It’s one of those things that helps me decompress and provides some civility and calmness to my week. One morning, in the beginning of the semester, I decided to forgo my weekly ritual and instead have a late breakfast with a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen since last spring. “Is it OK if we meet down by 72nd Street?” she asked me. “I have something to do that morning.” That morning, she showed up, to my surprise, in full business attire with a professional bag at her side. “Just had an interview,” she said. “I think it went well.”
Once the breakfast was over, I began wondering about my own internship situation. It seems next to impossible to go to Columbia, or really any college, without constantly facing things that make you question yourself at every turn. Was it really important that sophomores have internships? Could I still fit one into my schedule? While I had applied to a few internships, gotten a few interviews, and even an offer, I didn’t have a position lined up—I still don’t. And, thankfully, after much (perhaps too much) consideration, I’m OK with that.
Columbia is an ambitious community—that’s part of what brought me here in the first place. Nevertheless, as I spend more time here—as the need to look to the future starts to become more pressing—I cannot help but feel that our focus can sometimes be a hindrance to our experiences at the University. Although we tell ourselves that we pursue opportunities out of passion, it is easy to see that a lot of students here, perhaps unwittingly, let their ambitions turn the ends of their interests into means. Board positions become opportunities to demonstrate leadership qualities on a résumé. Classes become avenues through which to boost GPAs. Interesting professors become interesting references.
It seems, at times, as though everything we do here is focused on how it will affect us after college. Pick a major. Pick the right internship this summer so you can have the right one next summer. Think about which paths your choices open up for you. When you look at it, there’s no denying that what we do now will impact our lives far down the road. Regardless of how much we’d like to, we simply can’t ignore the effects that our present decisions will have in the long term.
And yet, I cannot help but feel that too many of us—myself included—are missing something. There is something to be said, I think, for just being a student, for taking the brief time we have here and using it to do things we’ll never again be able to do. Internships can be one of those things, for some. For those who find work in the field of their dreams, an internship can be the most rewarding part of college. For me, however, that just isn’t the case. I don’t want to watch myself pursue things for the sake of a résumé line, for the sake of seeming impressive at family reunions. I don’t want to spend my whole career here with one foot out the door, especially when I feel like I just got the other foot in. More than anything, though, I don’t want to look back on my time here and ask myself why I didn’t take more time to hang out with friends, to make bad music, to write things that have no chance of ever getting published, to have fun.
There’s no doubt that I still feel the need to look down the road. I still feel the pressure of going to school here, the fear of falling behind my friends and classmates. I am just as scared of wasting my opportunities as I am of wasting time—I am scared that I won’t strike the right balance. But then on Fridays, those fears—at least for a moment—melt away. I grab my copy of the Times, post up in Ferris, and read the paper with my breakfast—feeling extraordinarily lucky that, for the time being, I have the chance to be just a student.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore and a member of the Columbia Review’s editorial board.
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