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Look within, see beyond

| Tuesday, April 26, 2016

“What are you doing after graduation?”

I am going home for the summer. Although a short response, this answer explains it all. Yes, I don’t have a job. Yes, I am a business major. Yes, I don’t have my life figured out. No, I am not a failure. No, I am not alone. I just need time to get to know me, to think, to love life.

As a first-year student nearly four years ago, I was immediately sucked into the “Notre Dame family,” forced to become the definition of what it meant to be a “Domer.” Instead of receiving the freedom I desired and expected, I was limited to choose my dorm, my roommate and my courses. Instead of having the ability to define myself, I was put into a stereotype of the “white majority,” of which I neither associated with nor belonged. I grew up in an area of Texas where I was a minority in race, in religion and in socioeconomic status. I felt the need to conform, without having the chance to reflect, discover and learn. As I joined clubs, attended lectures and took courses, I never thought twice about why I was doing something, only about what it was that I was doing.

Am I doing enough? Is what I am doing good enough? Should I do more?

I absent-mindedly talked the ND talk and walked the ND walk. I never said “no.” I overscheduled myself. I didn’t allow myself the time to reflect, to learn just to learn, to be spontaneous, to live. I forced myself to live by a schedule that was too rigid to incorporate new interests, passions and even relationships. Life became a routine, from which I struggled to escape.

As my four-year career comes to a close, amidst all the stress, coursework and extracurricular activities, I have begun to think differently. Last week, I texted a friend who I hadn’t talked to in months and who helped me realize I never asked the right questions. “College pressures us to really keep reaching out to the external, but I think that internal discernment is really what we need to ground us. Hopefully graduation allows us to really reflect and dig deeper in ourselves.”

I am ready for a new kind of academic experience after graduation. I am ready to learn the piano, to refine my language skills, to get to know people on a deeper level, to understand what motivates and to be wholly and fully me. I am not taking a break from my responsibilities or abandoning my education. Rather, I am enhancing it, reflecting on it and taking a risk to become my best self, so I can better serve the world around me by offering my whole self with all talents, passions and abilities.

Don’t get me wrong. I have generally enjoyed my time at Notre Dame. Because no place is perfect, I can’t make an absolute statement here. I have struggled here, I have performed here and I have made lasting friends, but more importantly, I have transformed, and I need time to cultivate that transformation. I am proud of my decision to take the time to understand me this summer. If I could restart my four years, I would focus on only two activities, choosing to do only what excites me and defines me. I would reserve time for spontaneity to be with others. I would relax.

Do not let the pressures of Notre Dame, other students, family or the stereotype of you (what others think about you or encourage you to be) coerce you to do things that may not satisfy you. Take the time to be yourself. Be spontaneous. Foster relationships. Look at your schedule and cut out what you are not passionate about. If you can do that now, do it. You are not alone, and if you have the same questions and doubts now that I did, do not be ashamed to take time for yourself. We decide our own happiness, so we need the time to do so.

Ethan Muehlstein
April 21

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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