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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

The second step

Depending on what your graduating year is, last week was most likely your first real collegiate spring break. Congratulations! We left for a week, and we came back. Take that, COVID.

My column byline is “Trivial Matters.” I thought this was a nice bit of wordplay on my part, for my intention was to talk about the trivial matters in life and hopefully show that the trivial things matter in some way.

My topic this time deviates a bit because I don’t think it’s trivial, but I want to write about it anyway.

Let’s talk about balance.

Raise your hand if you’ve been feeling off-balance lately! Yeah, me too. Senior year is staring me down and it’s the only thing standing between me and the daunting “real” world. I’m repeatedly choosing between sleep, schoolwork and socialization without feeling truly present for any of them (in addition to finding and applying for summer internships, extracurricular activities, taking mental breaks, etc, like all my fellow college-goers).

It’s more than off-balance; it’s as if my center of gravity decided to go on a 2020 spring break (spring break, but without the return). With it went motivation, passion and energy to engage.

I have this feeling of lying lackadaisical in a nondescript field, watching storm clouds gather above me.

It sounds bleak, doesn’t it? I’ve struggled to even feel stress when I procrastinate doing my school work or searching for internships. Normally I have a physical, anxious reaction to putting off work, but that’s mostly abandoned me, too. I recognize times when I would usually feel that way, when I want to feel that (healthy amount of) stress, but I either don’t feel anything, or I jump immediately to the paralyzing part where my thoughts are too crowded to comprehend.

Balance is an elusive concept, but I know that ping-ponging between extremes is not it.

So what is balance, and how do I regain it?

Physically, balance comes from your center of gravity. It’s something we have to develop. As babies, we learn to shift our center of gravity to roll over and sit up unaided. We use it to stand up, to walk, to run, and to jump. It makes your heart skip when you lean too far back in your chair, and it tells you to throw your arms out when walking on a tightrope.

A metaphysical center of gravity, if you will, acts similarly. I imagine it as a mental and emotional focal point housing passion, motivation, stress, and similar things. It is also something we have to cultivate. We train ourselves to have certain priorities; we develop particular passions and motivations. When that center of gravity is mis-calibrated or lost, we may still recognize what ignites our passions or motivates us, but we lose the feeling of their weight. We lose our balance.

I say “we” in an attempt to include those who may relate to my thoughts on this. Take it all with a grain of salt, because everyone is on different paths.

I wish I could just snap my metaphysical center of gravity back into place. There are moments when I picture what that would look like, and I see myself as I used to be: using those passions and stress as fuel to actively, consistently pursue my goals. Unfortunately, those moments only come when I am entirely unable to drop what I’m doing, like in the middle of a class or when I’m trying to fall asleep.

It’s not that easy, though. Like a child learning to roll themselves over, I’m going to have to work for it. I have to learn how to sit up, stand up and take a step. I need to redevelop and recalibrate my center of gravity, and that takes practice and time.

I thought taking the first step was the hardest part, and for a while I thought the first step was survival — just hanging on until some future someday when I have the time to work on regaining my balance.

But it can only be a first step if there is a second.

That second step is harder, I think, because it involves moving forward on your own and laying down solid foundations rather than just temporarily patching things up as you go. It’s proof that the first step wasn’t a one-and-done.

I’m still figuring it out. For now, my second step is reflecting on that passion that I want to feel by talking about it and writing about it. I’m getting better at remembering what the motivation feels like and sometimes I do feel it. When that happens, I try to take the step forward and act on it by sitting down and starting that assignment, for example. I try to regain my balance.

Many times I fail to act quickly enough. What I’m learning, though, is that if I fail to act right away, that does not mean I have to wait until the next opportunity. I can decide when and where to try again. I don’t have to be passive. Knowing that is wildly freeing, even if I forget it sometimes.

Thank you, dear reader, for bearing with me through this somewhat self-therapeutic column. I hope that if you feel any flutter of familiarity with these thoughts, you take this as a sign that you are not alone. I’m rooting for you.

Take that second step.


Madeline Law is a Saint Mary’s junior from Petoskey, Michigan. She studies English literature and communication studies with a minor in theater. If you can find her, she’ll either be adding books to scattered to-read lists or re-reading old favorites. Reach her at and send book suggestions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.