Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: I just came to say “Hello”

I’ve never been more ecstatic to set foot on campus than this fall: my last “first day of school” as a Stanford undergrad. Summers spent working long and lonely hours at a cubicle or living abroad without Internet access would make anyone other than a hermit lust for friendship; for me, seven months away from the place that I love sent me over the edge. I spent the last month of summer counting down the days until the start of the quarter, fantasizing about all the old friends I could catch up with and all the new people I could meet. Life was bursting with opportunity.

That first week of school sped by in a haze of supercharged social energy; we were screaming at each other from across White Plaza, giving each other giant bear hugs and booking ourselves solid with catch-up dates. By the end of the week, I was hoarse from hours of talking, strung out on caffeine and broke from Fraiche.

But with week two at a close, the energy has shifted. That bubbly, over-the-top enthusiasm has gone flat as we resign ourselves to the daily grind. Between classes, advisor meetings, three clubs, tutoring, problem sets, papers and at least a modicum of hygiene and sleep, where does spontaneous social interaction fit in? When our schedules solidify, the first thing to go is that same human connection I, for one, so craved upon starting school.

My first-day-of-school excitement is melting into a sad little puddle of insecurity and complacency. Either I’m just too lazy to walk across the street to Xanadu, too preoccupied with writing this column to interact with anyone around me (hmmm, something’s wrong with that picture) or so insecure that whomever I text either doesn’t want to get together or that once we start talking there will be nothing to say. So, I find myself sending phantom texts to no one while crossing White Plaza to avoid awkward encounters with people I know well enough to say “hi” to, but not well enough to engage in full-on conversation.

Suddenly I’m afraid to reconnect. It’s almost as though the words “Let’s grab coffee!” or “We really should catch up!” have become synonymous with “See you later!” — another sign-off whose meaning carries no real weight. Upon parting ways, who knows whether the other person actually meant he wanted to connect, or whether it was just a routine gesture of politesse?

Aside from insecurities, there are a whole slew of things that get in the way of making and keeping plans. When deadlines loom, cancellation becomes the default. We tell ourselves that there will be another time later for that coffee, but let’s be real: for the average Stanford student, there’s never an opportune moment to spend an hour or two just catching up.

We’re all so damn busy scheduling every moment of our lives that there’s no space to breathe in between blocks of time allotted for this or that. For that matter, after expending so much energy playing mental Tetris with our schedules, who in their right mind would want to deviate from the plan? If you haven’t been booked into someone’s iCal, good luck catching him or her at a spare moment! But it is this very preoccupation with our schedule that disconnects us from the present and inhibits us from engaging with the here and now.

I’m not saying to avoid your homework, skip showers or not apply to grad school. We do go to Stanford, we are busy and there are important things that need to get done. But don’t we all need an hour of wiggle room every day to get distracted by people you haven’t “penciled in” or to let yourself stop for those five-minute impromptu conversations in the hallways?

Make time for human connection. Make time for the people you know well, as well as those you don’t. Because at the end of the day, people are what matter most. That person you keep meaning to reach out to? You should. No matter how much time may have passed, it’s never too late or too awkward. Even a five-minute conversation goes a long way, provided you’re truly sincere and engaged the whole time. When you ask someone how they are, mean it! Look them in the eye, touch them on the shoulder, connect with them, if only for a few moments. Those little gestures of empathy can change both your day and theirs more than you know.

College is the only time in our lives when friends act as a surrogate family. We are literally surrounded on a daily basis by 6,800 of the most amazing people on the face of the planet. These are the people that will be changing the world in five or ten years, and here we are, all living together. Take advantage of your four years here to connect with as many of them as possible. Not doing so? Now that would be the real waste of the moment!

Think Leslie’s one of those pretty amazing people you’d like to connect with? Shoot her an email and tell her what you think at labrian(at)stanford.edu.