The first two weeks of this quarter, I found myself in a funk. Each morning, I would wake up with a sinking feeling in my chest — anxious and filled with a million plans, with only 24 hours to fit them all in. Between shopping 30+ units, dealing with personal relationships, studying for looming midterms, and upcoming big decisions, there seemed to be fewer hours than tasks on my Momentum to-do list. And, foolishly convincing myself that my emails would just go away by not looking at them, my unread account blossomed from 250 to 750 within three days.
The Stanford schedule takes no prisoners. The quarter system is relentless; it holds nothing back. This university is great because of its commitment to excellence, because of its insistence on asking “why” questions, and its embrace of the practical application. However, precisely because of this mentality, more and more students are stressed and drawn away from “trivial” passions. Even with the extraordinary freedom and privilege Stanford students receive, in such a consequentialist place it is nevertheless tough to be an explorer, to be undecided. In an environment defined by excellence, it can be difficult to love your mediocre performance, to be a dabbler of trades and a master of none.
So, there I was, immobilized. And with each passing day, the decisions and work began to pile up, and my whole self began to feel empty again. But like all states of mind, things change. I just needed a catalyst.
The next morning, almost by fate, I got an invitation from my friend Eleanor on the Stanford Happiness Collective to attend a documentary screening of “The Happiness Project.” The film showcases a bunch of high school students on a quest to find what happiness truly is. On their quest, they meet with other international students, doctors, writers, and even the Dalai Lama, who laughs and replies that there is no one formula to happiness, only individual paths marked by selflessness, kindness, forgiveness, and patience. The producer leaves the audience with a profound quote, and it has left in me an unearthly sense of joy, wonder, and happiness.
Here it is. “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The quote centers on the idea of “coming alive.” At first glance, it seems redundant. How do we come alive if we already are alive as living, breathing creatures? But, the more one thinks about it, the more “coming alive” takes on an active, rather than a passive, stance. Coming alive is living with that indescribable magical spark, with a baby’s smile or a twinkle in one’s eye. Coming alive is being fully present, aware of one’s surroundings. It is being on fire with a passion, yet calm and patient. Although we may describe it in different ways, I think we can all agree that “coming alive” may be an enlightened state of life.
Thus, if we take this above quote as true, there is arguably nothing more important than “coming alive.” But how exactly does one come alive? It’s hard to quantify and is different for each person, but you can find it when you’re at your passion, when you are at your most joyful, and/or when you are at peace. For me, it’s when I’m getting the lightbulb to turn on, when I’m having a deep conversation with others, when I’m singing songs with Camp Kesem or dancing with the Bhangra team. Coming alive requires that you love yourself first. That you’re sleeping enough, eating enough, doing enough for yourself to interact with the world with unfiltered life. And, at a place like Stanford, where things can be consequentialist, and sleep and wellness can be tossed to the side, coming alive can be tough. It is very easy to get lost in a track, out of your passion, and silently harming your very self.
Our greatest impact is made by our very interactions with others, by the positive, building life energy that we exude to others. And, besides a few exceptions, this energy cannot be faked, it can only be achieved by coming alive. You must love yourself before you can love others; you must help yourself before you help others. Ultimately, the greatest gift we can give others is ourselves.
Contact Kyle D’Souza at kvdsouza ‘at’ stanford.edu.