Steven Abbott's Words of Wisdom

Shared in the April 13, 2020 weekly NAP newsletter

Contrubuted by Steven Abbott, Associate Director of Admissions & Coordinator of Native/Indigenous Outreach

One of my favorite quotes comes from singer-songwriter John Mellencamp.  It was something that Pete Seegar once said to him and he says he regularly admonishes himself to remember it, "Keep it small, but keep it going."

I've spent a lot of time – especially in these recent, very strange days – thinking about this phrase and why I like it.  Granted, in a world filled with grandiose, inspirational Hallmark quotes, this one can hit the ear a little strangely at first.  But to me, ultimately, it is a message of balance.  It speaks simultaneously to the dangers of overreaching; of going too big, too fast; of getting too distracted and too scattered.  But it also speaks to the importance of not giving up, of regular hard work and of continually moving forward.

When I began to think (hey, there's a first time for everything!) of anything I could hope to offer even remotely resembling 'words of wisdom' that might resonate right now, this thread came immediately to mind.

Many of you have heard me tell this story of my own first year as an undergrad:  One evening, a group of us sat around talking and self-righteously trashing the institution and everything to do with it.  One of our older peers (a wise, old senior!) spoke up at that point and said, "You know what, you're right.  This place is oppressive, depressive, repressive and every kind of pressive you can think of.  But it's also going to be the source of some of the greatest people and experiences you'll ever know.  Don't lose sight of that."  That was a clarion call for me that I've always tried to pay forward.  It's important to fight the good fight, push back, challenge, call bullsh**, make change and criticize.  But it's also important to take advantage of those great, unique opportunities that come along.

In a time of unprecedented isolation, when everyone feels separated from the immediacy of those opportunities, it can be easy to check out entirely, or to just keep marking off the hours and the days and the weeks until things start getting back to normal.  And yet, the chance to make the most of every opportunity is just as strong now as under 'normal' circumstances.  I've been so impressed and so heartened in some of the conversations I've had lately – including with many of you – to hear how much people are taking advantage of the silver linings of the current situation: relishing the time with family, spending time on languages, doing some new reading, starting a new hobby, taking on new or challenging courses, etc.

At the same time, however, many people all over the world right now are starting to chastise themselves because they don't feel like they're accomplishing enough with all this 'free time.'  Realistically, the idea of boundless free time during our shelter-in-place reality is something of a myth.  Whether you're working, taking classes, taking care of family or all of the above, many of us don't actually have much more time than we ever did.  And the increased demands of everything from helping kids with at-home schoolwork to learning new technologies to cooking all our own meals may leave some of us with less time than ever.  Not to mention that the whole, big, wiry ball of stress and uncertainty buzzing away in the background 24/7 takes its toll.

So, my humble words of wisdom, or more realistically, my words to the wise, would be this: Don't lose that spark.  Keep seeking out those opportunities during this time.  Keep taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by family, by community, by jobs, by Dartmouth, by time itself.  BUT…  Balance.  Be kind to yourself, too.  Be realistic about what you can actually get done and enjoy it.  If you haven't mastered a new language in three weeks, or if you haven't managed to read a whole shelf of the library in an afternoon, or if taking 7 classes at once (but they're pass/fail!) turns out not to have been the best idea you've ever had, it's okay.

Keep it small, but keep it going.

And once the storm is over You won't remember how you made it through,
how you managed to survive.
You won't even be sure, in fact, that the storm is over.
But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm,
You won't be the same person who walked in.
That's what this storm is all about.
-Haruki Murakami