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Social stagnation (and why I’m writing for The Grind)

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By external measures, I’m probably crushing it in quarantine. I’ve gotten dressed every day. I schedule calls and check-ins with friends. I turn in my homework several days early. I am even one of the lucky few who has found an internship since social distancing began. COVID-19, by all accounts, has been kind to me.

Yet, I have never felt less fulfilled in college. I am lucky to be safe and secure in my home, but like many, I am grappling with conceptions of success and self in these new circumstances.

Since entering college, I have defined success by my ability to seek happiness in moments, and I structure my days around maximizing memorable experiences. I take three classes per quarter to minimize time spent on coursework; I focus on strengthening relationships and building memories; I give myself the free time I need to chase spontaneity and be creative. By leaving my calendar sparse, I have found space to attend countless performances, talks and film screenings, try theatre for the first time, impulsively start a blog and take unplanned trips off campus, exploring and deepening both my interests and friendships. I fundamentally believe the unstructured time I carve out has rewarded me with more memories, stories and growth than the rest of my life combined.

And to that end, I have failed in social distance. For the first time since entering college, I have been unable to seek happiness with the same approach, and I feel, above all else, stagnant. How can I be building meaningful experiences if every few days, I find myself crying about missing adventures with friends or wake up uninterested in engaging with the world? I like to pride myself on chasing whims and creating for the sake of creating, but in my room all day, I feel devoid of inspiration.

Today, without the ability to seek new experiences in the way I did before, I am searching for new ways to grow. I joined The Grind to be inspired and pursue deeper introspection in a time when video calls are inadequate replacements for the experiences I would have on campus. I am also writing to become more vulnerable.

Sharing my personal writing has always been a mental block — something that should be effortless but that I often struggle with. I was recently on a Zoom call with my boyfriend (such are the times). While I was sharing my screen, he spotted a document titled “Love @ Stanford” on my desktop. This was a New York Times “Modern Love”-esque piece that I started and very quickly abandoned. Out of instinct, I refused to let him read it, despite there being nothing incriminating — only 10 fractured, disconnected sentences.

When my writing is personal, I become self-conscious. Are my experiences worth sharing? Do I really have anything insightful to share? I often think of writing as my process of thinking; my thoughts start jumbled, and I rely on writing to sort and structure them into coherent beliefs. But even if I physically cringe when thinking about some of my peers reading my writing, I believe in the value of vulnerability — so I am writing for The Grind to seek growth. If experiencing and risk-taking have to happen remotely, so be it. In these strange times, to write, I hope, is to experience.

Contact Lena Han at lahan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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