Like most people over the past year, I picked up a so-called “quarantine hobby.” Back in April, I bought the cheapest longboard off of Amazon and started skating around my neighborhood. When I clicked the “add to cart” button, I had all these grand fantasies of dancing gracefully on the deck of the board, or speeding down hills at 20 mph, or doing crazy tricks off of curbs and rails. But when I stepped onto the board for the first time, I could barely even balance. Since I didn’t have much else going on with my time, I decided to challenge myself to practice every day for a whole month. At the end of the month, I was able to skate around without falling, but I was subsequently humbled when I drove by a local skate park in my hometown and saw middle schoolers doing tricks that made my stomach churn.

I think it is probably realistic to say that I’ll never regain that sense of fearlessness that kids seem to have that is so necessary for attempting risky tricks. But that doesn’t mean the experience of learning to longboard was not meaningful for me. As Jake the Dog from one of my favorite cartoons, “Adventure Time,” says, “Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” Taking the pressure off becoming extremely successful at something actually helped me enjoy the process of learning.

I write about this anecdote because I’ve started thinking this way about Princeton in general. Oftentimes, the pressure to succeed academically, socially, and professionally can rob us of the inherent joy of learning and growing. I’ve learned that there can be great joy in just letting go of the fear that it’s “too late” or that I’m “not good enough” to start something new and just embracing the process of growth. Although it’s my last year at Princeton, I decided to start a lot of new things, often being the only new senior member among a lot of freshmen and sophomores at events. I signed up to do the training with CONTACT, an emotional support/crisis hotline. I went to a Bhangra workshop. I even decided to join the ‘Prince’ as a cartoonist.

When I think about what has been the most meaningful to me in my last year at Princeton, I think it is actually the fact that I gave myself permission to experience Princeton as a frosh again, to just approach new experiences with no expectations. I’ve learned that growth and improvement can be the joy itself. I just hope that other people who were as type-A as I was can learn that doing something you know you will not be the best at can actually take off a lot of the pressure to succeed and open up new experiences of joy.

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