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Goodbye Slump, Hello Mid-Life Crisis

By Gabriela E. Weldon

Yesterday I got the Colorado flag tattooed on my ankle for no apparent reason.

Mid-life crisis: noun

1. An emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age.

2. A period of emotional turmoil in middle age caused by the realization that one   is no longer young and characterized especially by a strong desire for change.

Some deal with mid-life crises by taking out second mortgages to support new Ferrari collections. Others try their hand at erotic fiction and install a stripper pole in the living room. I, on the other hand, found myself at Chameleon Tattoo and Body Piercing, getting my home state’s flag permanently etched into my skin.

Maybe “mid-life crisis” isn’t the best term to categorize my sudden masochistic rebellion; I have not been pondering my own morality, nor do I intend on accepting it at 40. But when I pondered how I would explain to my mother why the “drawing” on my skin is so durable (and I can only avoid the shower for so long), attributing my action to my sophomore slump just didn’t seem to cut it.

I started defining my year by the sophomore slump the moment I realized living in the Quad meant I could no longer roll out of bed at the time class was supposed to start and still make it on Harvard time. Suddenly our professors began assuming we knew how to write a paper, our advisers expected us to know what our interests were, and our TFs stopped accepting getting lost as a valid excuse for missing section. Not to mention the looming concentration deadline yet to be addressed—how am I supposed to know what I want to study when I still haven’t figured out how to get to William James Hall?

Though throwing around the phrase “sophomore slump” has conveniently made scowling a slightly more socially acceptable answer to “how are you?” and has justified my ambivalence toward anything that isn’t my extra long twin-size mattress, I have begun to realize that accepting a sophomore slump, or really any slump, might just be part of the problem.

The main issue I take with defining this lackluster phase as the “slump” is that it seems to imply we have no agency in addressing our own problems; if sophomore slump is an inevitable and all-encompassing stage of all our college careers, we have no choice but to ride it out until its bitter end.

What if instead of a slump, this age of second-guessing ourselves really is a full-fledged mid-life crisis? Rethinking a lifelong commitment to medicine, for example, certainly seems to qualify as a “crisis of identity” or “strong desire for change.” Call it a quarter-life crisis if you want to get technical about modern life expectancy or don’t like associating yourself with your middle-aged, pole-dancing parents, but the fundamental idea still stands. By classifying the slump as a crisis, we’re acknowledging the need for change.

The excitement of freshmen year is long gone. The giddy happiness of being here and zany sense of newness and endless possibilities has been replaced with a gnawing sense that our time here is finite—while we may not be approaching the halfway marker of our life expectancy, we are certainly approaching the halfway marker of our college careers.

All of a sudden we’re forced to think about why we’re studying what we’re studying, what we’re really doing here at all, and slowly we question if the routine that has come to define us has actually been fulfilling; if the sacrifices we’ve made—friendships we’ve lost, nights we’ve spent sleepless in Lamont—have all been worth it.

Maybe our youth is less of an issue—I like to think I still have a few good years left—but the rest of this so-called slump surely resembles the makings of a mid-life crisis.

It’s midterm season (AKA the end of shopping week until reading period), and we are quickly approaching the season of death, which, in Cambridge, means it now gets dark after lunch, and I will soon have to sacrifice my class participation grade if I can’t figure out the shuttle system—unfortunately my attempts at mobilizing Quadlings against attending class in the winter have been ill-received.

But just because we have to accept perpetual cold and darkness (unless we transfer to Stanford) doesn’t mean we have to accept the decline of our youthful exuberance quite yet.

While feeling confused, unfulfilled, or just plain unhappy seems to be a pretty common theme right now, our individual reactions are entirely our own; “sophomore slump” need not be something to grin and bear.

Whether it’s taking a semester off to become reacquainted with yourself and your happiness, re-thinking the pre-med track for a degree in folklore and mythology, or getting a largely unhelpful and unwanted tattoo, it’s okay to indulge your inner crisis and ignore the consequences for a while.

Even though I’m not a 40-year-old man juggling a secret family in Barbados, I’m going to enjoy my mid- (or quarter-) life crisis. And if that means being reckless and stupid, at least I’m the one controlling it.

Gabriela E. Weldon ’16 is a Crimson editorial writer in Currier House.

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