The Guilt of Having an Ordinary Summer

Opinion by Alex Bayer
May 7, 2013, 11:00 a.m.

“If your back is hurting, maybe don’t stretch so much. Check your alignment.” I was in yoga class, and this phrase, which normally slips through my ears without notice, caught my attention. You see, I have been preoccupied with this very thought for the last two weeks: What is the balance between centering myself and pushing myself?

At a place like Stanford, this is no easy task. Take, for example, summer plans. I’ve found that whenever I pose that question to my classmates, I leave with a bruised ego. One of my friends is doing a photography study of hip-hop culture in Norway; another one of my friends is working with a social activist circus in Cape Town. Still another one of my friends is interning with an NGO in Santiago and going to Rio to study its favelas.

I did try; months ago, I sat down and researched grants and fellowships. I researched about places and people I could research. I was on the lookout for some story, some niche in the universe that would fire me up. Maybe food culture in Hong Kong…? Attitudes about death in Japan…? Folklore in Ireland? But at the end of the day, I could not muster the energy to write a grant proposal, and the deadlines, as they are wont to do, slipped by.

February, March, April… as the months passed, my options began to winnow themselves out. I submitted a few applications here and there, just to stay afloat. But to cut a long story short, it looks like I am heading home for the summer.

I say this with a tinge of reticence, as if not quite ready to believe it myself. Why the guilt? Isn’t this a thing normal college kids do? Go back home, mow lawns for some spending money, haunt some high school parties? I think back to the college students trolling around my hometown. There was an air of mystery about them and they seemed older, cooler. Now I’m them, strangely enough. Wouldn’t it be kind of fun to pretend I’m a little cooler?

It’s never easy to trust your own voice; such is the lot of twenty-somethings still figuring out who they are. But the problem is especially magnified at Stanford: We’re worried about our future, we’re insecure, and we’re success-driven. It’s a given that we compare ourselves to others, but the caliber of things we’re doing is abnormally awesome. A circus? Biking across America? A fellowship in Sao Paolo? It’s a sheer effort of will, every time, to remind myself that it’s OK I’m not doing any of these things. I’m going…home. Maybe I’ll work at my public library. Maybe I’ll spend my afternoons walking my dog. “That’s OK,” I have to tell myself (it’s harder than it looks).

When I sit back and allow myself to be all right with it, I actually start getting excited more than I will admit to most people. I think of the mundane possibilities (Grocery shopping! Eating at the Chili’s where all the high schoolers go! Walking my dog!) and a swell of joy rises in me. I’m even thinking of ways I can rediscover my hometown and change it in meaningful ways, and all of a sudden I feel the passion I kept waiting for a cool-sounding fellowship in a foreign country to elicit in me.

Then I realize: The reason I’ve been driving to Barnes and Noble or studying in Starbucks? They remind me of their carbon copies back home. Home was tugging at me all along. Home was what I needed. And now it’s what I’m wanting. Ah, clarity. Once I stopped trying to find something to want and simply listened to what I needed, it took care of itself. It turns out the two are sometimes the same.

Share your summer plans with Alex at [email protected].

Login or create an account