On Shakespeare and FOMO
‘Angst? For graduation? Groundbreaking.’
In a bizarre turn of events, I’ve actually managed to survive my finals. Some say this is the result of “diligence” and “preparation”, but I’d put it down to a heady mix of hysteria, 99p coffee (thanks Pret), and the shining beacon that is May Week. As I write this, the balls and garden parties are drawing to a close (ok, have drawn), and friends are turning their thoughts towards summer plans and this mysterious thing called The Real World. Clichéd as it may seem, the post-uni dread has begun to set in, but in a more reflective and strangely sedate form than expected. During term it can be hard to think outside the present moment. Your time is absorbed by mounting essay crises and a group chat that can’t even decide between Lola’s or Fez (Lola’s, obviously), and yet, through the present haze of sunshine and beer gardens, I’ve found that memories of my degree are surprisingly hard to escape.
Among the various essays my DoS has ripped to shreds over the course of the term, one quotation refuses to leave my mind. Stuck in Pomfret Castle, regretting that he was a bit of a shit king, Shakespeare’s Richard II cries ‘I wasted time, and now doth time waste me ’. More than its wordplay or contrived self-pity, the quote refuses to leave me alone because it feels far too relatable. After three years of intense academic pressure and self-doubt, it’s something of a revelation to realise that there’s more to life than footnoting a dissertation, that despite all expectations and anxieties the time we have to spend is our own. Irrespective of how we spend that time, we question how well it has been spent once there is no more remaining, and for a few days after discovering this I was thrown into crisis. Did I make the most of my time here? Why didn’t I do more? Will I too be stabbed to death in an 11th century castle?
Cambridge’s culture of academic excellence runs parallel to a problematic culture of personal excellence. If you’re not involved in your JCR, CUSU, the ADC, college sports, editing a magazine, heading a society, attending nights out with clockwork regularity and a Blue, then you’re falling short. If you aren’t perpetually rushed off of your feet, you’re wasting time. The toxic consequences of such a mindset need no explanation; the seemingly endless opportunities offered by Cambridge shouldn’t be undertaken at the expense of your physical and mental wellbeing. Could I have done more? Would I do some things differently if I had the time again? Yes; but it’s only human to give those answers. Spending my time differently would not have made me the person I am today, nor would it have gifted me the weird and wonderful memories I have. Although I can’t speak for Richard II’s opinions on CUAC or the latest Corpus mainshow, I know that his melancholia and ‘wasted time’ stem from the same fear as my own, that of failing to be the best we can be, of failing to walk every path and open every door we encounter, even as we know this to be impossible.
When my overwhelmed (and quite drunk) past self went to bed after matriculation dinner, he had no idea that the ensuing three years would see him finally embrace his sexuality, explore his relationship with religion, and meet some of the best friends imaginable. He would have questionable first dates, he would throw himself into access work, he would laugh and dance with abandon, and he would grow and mature as a person beyond his wildest dreams. I have fallen short and I have failed, but I have also succeeded and overcome. “Doing what makes you happy” may sound like anodyne self-help, but it's incredibly important; doing a thousand things because you feel it is expected of you can never be as rewarding as doing the one thing you’re truly passionate about. The pervasive pressures of social media combined with the crushing self-doubt facilitated by Cambridge allow the myth of a perfect life, of time spent with ruthless economy, to dominate and denigrate our self-expectation. No one can better determine how to spend your time or live your life than you. Go for a run, have a lie-in, escape to Cologne for a day or two; whatever we choose to do with our time here, our choices are valid, and the only time wasted is that spent doubting ourselves. We shouldn’t fret over our experiences, but celebrate them exactly as they are (and after all, Richard II never experienced the joys of cheap filter coffee).