Hungry for change

Why everyone is changing things about themselves now

Will Nelson, Columnist

Have you changed your hair, gotten a tattoo or piercing, changed your career path, run away or made some other radical decision in the past few weeks? Have you at least thought about it? If so, you’re not alone.

I came back from Thanksgiving break to find that almost all of my friends had changed their hair, and I’ve seen more new tattoos this past week than I have in my entire life.

The strange thing is, I understood exactly where everyone was coming from. I had recently forced down a sudden and overwhelming urge to get a massive map of Middle Earth tattooed across my chest.

It also seems like folks are changing their career paths like Larry King changes wives. As per usual, I don’t have any quantitative evidence for this, its purely observational, but it’s hard to deny; students, particularly first-years, seem to be increasingly changing themselves right now.

But why? More interestingly, why at this specific time?

I’m not a psychology major, but I have a couple of theories.

Finals week is approaching. First-years such as myself have never experienced a finals week in college before, and I can really only speak for myself, but it’s wigging me out. Maybe all of that stress has coagulated into the desire to do something drastic. We can’t control our finals, so we’re reaching out and scrabbling for the few things that we can change.

More likely, however, is the fact that we’ve just broken through the cloud cover of reality. We started life high in the clouds. Anything was possible when we were young and we could be whoever we wanted. Personally, I wanted to be just like Steve Irwin. But the ceaseless pull of gravity (or fate) finally started taking hold in our adolescence, and we’ve been falling through the clouds ever since. Until now, that is.

It was this delicate moment right after the gilded, sunlight-dappled autumn days of our early first year.

We were still in the clouds for the first few months. Maybe you came into college trying to be a different person, just for the fun of trying on a different outfit.

But now we’ve applied to spring classes, and finals are in sight. We’re starting to realize the full extent to which our actions affect our lives, and it’s terrifying.

We’ve just broken through that crisp layer where the clouds end, and now we can see reality splayed out under us with all of its roads and villages, and it’s racing up to meet us. It may be beautiful from up here, but we’re still falling.

This mad drive to change is really just us flailing in midair, panicking as we realize we don’t have a parachute. We’re bailing out our illusions and childhood fantasies like ballast from a balloon.

It’s easy to forget that there is an answer to “who are you going to be when you grow up?” We have to land somewhere, but I don’t know how much control we have over where. By changing things about ourselves, our bodies, our plans, we’re trying to learn how to steer as we fall.

It’s hard not to think of college as one of those function machines that we learned about in elementary school. You put something in one end, and by some mysterious process, it comes out the other as a completely new thing.

We rolled into college on a conveyor belt, arms up, ready for the mystery machine to transform us, but the function machine is empty, devoid of whirling gears and mechanical arms.

College isn’t a machine. We make ourselves. Now that we’ve come to grips with that, it’s no wonder everyone is trying to change.

Over break, I really thought about throwing a duffle bag in the bucket seat of my truck and driving down to New Mexico to study lizards. I had realized that as I grew more and more cemented to the adult world, I was drifting farther and farther from my dream.

The weather, however, had other ideas, and I was detained. In a way, I’m glad though. It was a terrible plan, and staying in college will ensure that I’ll get paid for doing work like that.

Change is good, and it’s understandable that we’re craving it, but as we reach terminal velocity in our plummeting descent towards reality, just remember, you can control where you land.