I sat at my corner desk in my New York City apartment preparing myself for another day in the virtual office. A corner desk, thought to be a trendy and unique interior design choice, was merely a practicality — in New York, four corners was a luxury, and minimalism was not a style choice, but a necessity.
I pulled up my “fun” email before my work email; a miniature act of self-care before the flurry of tasks and deadlines that would saturate my day. A New York Times newsletter of fun weekday dishes, an invite to my cousin’s virtual baby shower, a request from the Class of 2018 officers to submit life updates.
It had been three (yes, three) years since we graduated. Did we have anything we’d like to share? The email offered a parenthetical list of potential topics: “(e.g. engagements/weddings/birth of a child/graduations, etc.)”
I wondered how these example milestones had been selected. Were these truly the four default milestones that bookmarked life following graduation? These four events appeared to me as luxurious as a four-cornered desk — reserved for those that had life otherwise tidied up and wrapped in a bow, with room to spare.
Further and further from my time at Notre Dame, I’ve found it more difficult to bookmark life chapters and quantify accomplishments. Previously, success had been linear, broken up into bite-sized chunks. If you did well enough at the freshman thing you assumed sophomore status. Semesters were punctuated with numbers, which translated into a single letter symbolizing your performance. Your collective academic achievement averaged into decimaled worth.
Three years later, I find myself trying to draw parallels and scrounging for signs. Am I a sophomore at this life thing? Do I get an A this week because I prioritized sleep and productivity at work the next day over the latest binge-worthy show? What was my grade-point average of these past three years?
Engagements, weddings, birth of a child, graduations, etc. Each neatly translating to a promise of new life: sharing a new life, welcoming a new life, ushering in a new life of educational and professional progress.
I’m not sure my life update could be nestled comfortably between those parentheses. I live not at the start of a new chapter easily bookmarked, but rather, in the middle of one, hastily dog-eared and requiring a ruffle of pages to find the exact part where I left off.
Here are my life updates from the past three years:
I have found the best bagel breakfast sandwich in New York — and it cannot be discovered from a quick Google search. Loyalists include the nurses and doctors from the hospital across the street, hungover young professionals, and my roommates and me. This constant in my life, my knowledge that this thing will always be good and satisfactory and kind to me, is a welcome crutch.
I have found that success in work can sometimes be distilled into a title change, additional compensation and affirmation from bosses. All of which can feel like you have finally gathered evidence that you are indeed capable, that you just may graduate with Latin honors at this life thing; but the feeling is fleeting, and I’ve found that what is more difficult, yet liberating, is personal pride in your actions without the need for external endorsements.
I have found the acts of traveling alone and eating at restaurants alone to be empowering — albeit constantly uncomfortable, but in a way that convinces you that something new, something good, can sprout from the experience. That, somehow, discomfort and change and the unknown signal progress.
Selena Ponio, who majored in international economics and Spanish with a minor in journalism, lives in New York City, where she works as a senior analyst in financial services.