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The closer we get to some final, crowning moment of self-actualization, like graduation, the more reality fails to support our view of ourselves. Instead of remembering what we want to, we're reminded of what life was like before we made the conscious decision to develop it.

It's like catching yourself in the middle of a thought and suddenly becoming aware of all the times you've thought it previously, in unconscious moments before sleep or travel. You find some random Disney clip for procrastination karaoke and it forces you back into the person you were the last time you heard it, the last time you watched that single swab of color fill Mulan's lips.

How could life have seemed so easy to you? How could you have possibly thought life worked that way, that through discipline and persistence you could take on the qualities you admired in others? When was the first time you deliberately tried to be a certain kind of person?

How is it that you've acquired the ability to excise all guilt-based motivation from your academic lifestyle? You don't regret not doing the week's reading anymore—you only have moments where an impulse born of past compulsions reminds you that you would have two or three years ago. Now you have no reaction. You don't approve of it or forgive it; you allow it, because you know that this is the way you've come to function in order to survive here.

Everything you thought would remain in your life will leave eventually. The elastic hope you felt freshman year—looking at all the fliers advertising groups and feeling like they could be where you meet your new squad or make your real mark on campus. You went to dinner with your floormates and thought it was the beginning of something.

But it's senior year now, and you realize that the capacity to imagine what your life could be, the capacity that used to make your life so exciting, has an equally powerful ability to shut it down. That sense of zeal and infinite expectation that your life could dramatically improve after your crush noticed you or after you won a musical competition in high school, back when extracurricular road trips and sleepovers were so heady with anticipation around and after them—those feelings are gone, too.

It's sick and sad how long it's taken me to face this change, even though we are living in its wake. And to people who haven't gone through this change, our progress doesn't seem proportional to the change.

We're hares and tortoises running the same race.

A good deal of philosophy says that what you lose will be made up for by the lessons you've learned—that suffering will bring you either absolution or self-actualization or humility. But sometimes you can't ever say it was good that something happened to you, no matter how much it made you into who you are. You've already bore the brunt of lacking the wisdom you've gained through failure.

So it's not so much that your self-perceived course has veered off from the conventional. It's that life is a different type of thing for you altogether now.

Sarah Durham is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. The Imperfectionist runs alternate Wednesdays.

nostalgia self-discovery personal journey