Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Driving without a destination

Sometimes, it’s not about the destination or the journey
Photo courtesy of Holden Baxter via Unsplash.

Shrouded in darkness, I watched cars whiz by, their headlights casting a lurid glow on my face. The soundtrack to my journey consisted of the engine’s quiet rumble and the metronome-like rhythm of the turn signal. As I peered out of the window, the Southwest Residential Area towers became miniature Jenga stacks in the distance.

“I think I have too many feelings,” I said to my friend. I was officially three weeks into my college journey, and despite having successfully navigated the labyrinth of my class schedule, I was completely lost when it came to figuring out my mental state. So, as a remedy, I asked my friend if I could sit in their car and they suggested something even better: going on a spontaneous drive nowhere.

I looked perfectly okay on the outside, with my color-coded to-do list and carefully curated Google Calendar. But I didn’t feel fine; there was a buried part of me that wanted to scream. I couldn’t figure out why, hence why I was on a drive with no set destination.

For most of my life, I had taken the train, stopping at stations that society would call milestones: getting my first part-time job, applying to college and finally graduating from high school. There were always clear expectations of what was good, like maintaining a high GPA, trying to cram as many AP classes as possible into my schedule and juggling five different extracurriculars simultaneously.

Nothing was more predictable than pursuing a higher education, which I would be the first to embark on in my family. College was the logical next stop. Something that everyone claimed to be eye-opening, fun and intellectually stimulating. When I arrived at the University of Massachusetts, however, I realized I was no longer on a train at all.

The train had stopped and it had deposited me in the middle of unfamiliar terrain. I now had unprecedented freedom over what I wished to study, who I wanted to spend time with and what kind of person I wanted to be. That knowledge was overwhelming. I felt both the pressure to make myself known, before I vanished into this school’s sea of people, and the urgency to build my resumé before it was too late. Everyone gushes over the freedom of going to college, but few acknowledge how scarily ambiguous that can feel.

There isn’t a typical moral of the story here. I don’t pretend to promote the message that college is actually the best four years of your life or that you’ll figure out who you are here. I think promoting those kinds of expectations ignores the difficult reality of trying to earn a degree, worrying about sinking into student debt and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.

Instead, I recommend driving nowhere (or walking nowhere because gas prices are still kind of high). Let your feet take you down a path you’ve never been down before. Meander down the streets of Northampton and allow your mind to wander, too. Think about the most random things, peer at the clouds and feel nothing.

We are so conditioned to respond with something like “I’m good” when asked how we are, but it’s okay to feel ambivalent sometimes. The leaves on the trees rustling as the wind blows, the ladybug that landed on your shoulder — those all just exist, and you’re allowed to simply exist, too.

Set off on that little trek with no destination, and let me know how it goes.

Grace Chai can be reached at [email protected].

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