First-Year Column: Life in College Candyland Requires Restraint

I’ve made a critical mistake. In the rush of coming to college and finding myself besieged by offers from swing clubs and radio stations, from prop rooms and student government, I have joined too many things.

It couldn’t be helped, really. I was like a kid in Candyland—torn between Lollipop Woods and Licorice Castle, why not go to both? Also, if there are Gingerbread Plum Trees, it is important to try both the gingerbread trunk and the plum fruits, because who knows when you’ll get such life opportunities like these again?

Wrought by the indecision characteristic of people about to decide on the course of the rest of their life, I found it simplified everything to just do it all. With this attitude, there was one week where I was taking a soccer class, ballet class, fencing class, tennis class and social dancing class at the same time as playing on the Ultimate Frisbee team. The Gumdrop Mountains were dangling their wares in front of me, and I couldn’t help wanting to eat their delicious chewiness all at once.

I was so worried that I wouldn’t have time to learn all these things later in life that I made the very logical decision to do it all now. I figured, when else would I get the chance to learn how to play a sport I’d always wanted to learn with a group of similarly athletic, friendly college kids for basically free?

Well, the answer is sometime in the next seven semesters or the next seventy years of life. I quickly realized that doing all six athletic activities at once was insupportable. For one thing, it meant a lot of costume changes, and for another, I realized that I couldn’t really learn everything at once. Olympic athletes spend years training for just one event, and, while I’m clearly at their athletic level, I found it a bit difficult to practice my Frisbee flick, social dancing cha-cha and tennis overhead in my time between classes. Similarly, I couldn’t spend my entire afternoon and evening trekking between different clubs and committees, especially when there are such things as PUB and TNC to consider.

My problem, I discovered, is similar to that of a lot of Claremont students: I enjoy doing too much and have too little free time. Given the chance to be a vampire, I would do it not so much for the sparkly skin but for the ability never to have to sleep. With all that extra time, I’m sure I could become a ballet student Stravinsky could be proud of, not to mention finally finish reading that third Harry Potter book in French without falling asleep, because, well, I wouldn’t be able to.

Unfortunately, I have not yet fallen in love with an obsessive vampire who will give me this ability. On the bright side, I will not have to bear his demon-child. With time for sleep an integral part of the equation, I had to come to terms with dropping some extracurriculars. Having a bellyful of gumdrops, after all, does not make wading through the Molasses Swamp easy.

While I love college for all the people I’ve met, the places I’ve gotten to go to and, of course, the parties, I’ve found that college is also quite terrifying. And the most frightening thing about it is having to make some critical life choices that could very much impact the dream of retiring with a mountain view of the sunset.

For example, I had never harbored much of an inclination to be a doctor. My parents are doctors and I was very happy to have them in my life to dispel small worries such as, “My thumb won’t stop gushing blood, what should I do?” or “My skin just broke out into a rash. I think I have SARS. I think I’m going to die.” But I never particularly wanted their life, mainly because I didn’t want to have to deal with people like me. 

When I came to college, though, and was told that if I ever wanted to be a doctor, I’d better start taking classes now, I suddenly began to doubt my casual dismissal of that career path. Sure, I never particularly wanted to be a doctor, but now I began thinking that if I ended up in a plane crash like those people on Lost, I would be the most essential person on the island and thus the least likely to be killed off first. Having the option taken off the table terrified me.

In high school, it feels like you’ve got your whole life in front of you and all of Candyland is at your feet, but when you’re in college, suddenly you need to start making some real decisions and picking one path over another. Candyland, after all, isn’t an accurate representation of life (surprise!). You can choose shortcuts in the game, but in the end, you’re following the same path to the same destination. In real life, there are myriad paths to take and decisions to make, and when you take one path, the others have a tendency to disappear behind you.

Yes, this realization is not particularly cheery. Now that we’ve left the land of candy, it can be bitter to walk down life’s paths. The straightforward path leading us from elementary school to middle school to high school has faded behind us, and we are left facing a massive intersection with only our own intuition and our friends’ advice to guide us. Dorothy must have felt like us when she followed the simple Yellow Brick Road to its end at the complex Emerald City.

So how do we deal with this confusion? How do we choose the right path? There’s no simple answer, but maybe if we look for the gumdrops along the way, the classes and clubs that bring us happiness—if we look to them like Hansel and Gretel looked to their pebbles, they will hopefully guide us to the paths best for us. So, the answer to your question is yes, you can have your gumdrops and eat them, too. As long as you don’t eat too many and drown in Ice Cream Sea.

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