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Traveling at the Speed of Light

Sometimes I feel like I’m a passenger on a train traveling at the speed of light. I’m stuck barreling towards the end of the semester, at high risk of crashing but perfectly incapable of slowing down or getting off. Keep reading if this resonates with you.

What seemed like every morning before high school, my mom would look down at me as she poured boiling water into my instant oatmeal. “Adam,” she would caution, “you have to learn how to slow down. You’re spreading yourself too thin.”

I knew I was overextending myself, but what else was I supposed to do? As a student in this high-pressure world, I had by that point internalized the idea that the only way to succeed was to do everything. When I arrived at Harvard, a microcosm of the eager high school go-getters, nothing really changed. We here at Harvard pride ourselves on being hopelessly overcommitted.

Yesterday, I texted a friend taking a much-needed semester off. She is — as expected — thriving. I laughed to myself as I casually remarked to her, “It is so dumb, the speed at which we live our lives.”

It’s true: Looking out the window on our train, can we not help but notice how fast the world is going by? When’s the last time you read something and really digested it? The last time you took a second to learn about something your friend is passionate about, or took time to tell someone about something you find meaningful?

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When’s the last time you called your mom? The last time she picked up the phone and asked what you needed, and you just replied, “Nothing, just wanted to say hi.”

It’s hard (and quite unrealistic) for me to write an op-ed about slowing down the train. After all, central to the ocular metaphor I opened with was the fact that the train can’t be slowed down. You can’t just “hop off.” You’ve picked your classes, made your extracurricular commitments, scheduled your phone interviews, and replied “going” on Facebook RSVPs.

I know what you’re thinking: It is well within our ability to flake on friends, call in sick to extracurriculars, and skip classes. But, we all know that flaking isn’t really fixing the problem.

After I have a bout of “free spiritedness” and impulsively shelve my schedule for the day, after I skip working on a problem set in favor of blacking out for the night, or after I push off texting a friend back about “catching a meal,” I still struggle to find some relief from the immense pressure of life at Harvard.

Frankly, that’s because being “hopelessly overcommitted” is part of our reality here at Harvard. Even if I swear that next semester will be “better,” I will probably find myself on the same high-speed train next semester.

Before I knew it, my seven semesters left at Harvard turned into five, turned into three, and will soon turn into one. I’ll be barreling towards a destination that is in fact the end of a chapter in my life. As graduation becomes all too real, I’ll have cause to reflect on what I really saw as I watched the world speed by outside my window. The people I met, the routines I lived, and the transformations I underwent for four years will be but a blur as I prepare to reframe my life for the real world.

So, pay more careful attention to the world passing by outside your window.

Capitalize on the moments you have to take in the world around you. Instead of scrolling through your Instagram feed as you walk to class, take a second and observe the vibrancy of life in Harvard Square. Sacrifice a few minutes before bed to ask how your roommate’s day was, and actually pay attention when they answer you. Call your parents and check in on them when you’re taking a break from your problem set. And for God’s sake, if you’re going to be drunk at El Jefe’s at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night, crack jokes with the other drunk burrito-eaters and maybe you’ll make a new friend.

Treat your time here at Harvard as an end in itself: as a chapter in your life that doesn’t have to be but a stepping stone to the next best thing. If you can’t slow down the train, you can at least take a deep breath and ask yourself how you can be a better witness to the beautiful experiences you’re presented with every second of every day.

Adam E. Harper ’20 is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House.

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