Villanova scholar offers strategies during her ‘A Life Worth Loving’ lecture
Two college students. Two different experiences. And one identical outcome: Brooke and Sophia (pseudonyms for two Villanova roommates) ended up, on separate occasions and during their same senior fall semester, in Dr. Anna Moreland’s office—in tears.
During her freshmen year, Brooke developed paralyzing anxiety about her future, which resulted in weekly therapy sessions. In her sophomore year, she decided to isolate herself, alienating her entire group of friends, and only talking to her boyfriend. The 18-year-old also chose to keep herself extremely busy, thinking that it would alleviate her angst.
“It didn’t work; it just made things worse,” read Moreland, sharing Brooke’s letter with attendees during her “A Life Worth Loving” lecture on Feb. 19. “It did help me fill my resume, and I thought it would help guarantee me a job. Now I’ve got what all my friends want: a well-paying job at a top bank. But, I wasn’t sure this is what I wanted. I felt backed in this career because it was something practical and prestigious.”
In Sophia’s case, the then-freshman did not want to repeat what she felt in high school—burnout and competition. So, she decided that her college experience would be focused on what she wanted to learn, which was anthropology. However, in her senior year she had no idea on how she was going to go “from courses she loves to a life she loves and to a professional life that she actually wants to do,” according to Moreland, whose discussion centered around her third forthcoming book, “Daring to Live: A Guide to a Meaningful Life,” co-authored with former colleague Dr. Thomas Smith from Catholic University of America.
“This is a book that I almost randomly wrote,” Moreland recounted. “But I wrote it after 17 years of listening to my students and being concerned about them. I wanted to give them a wider vocabulary and a wider vision for a good life.”
Moreland offered three challenges that confront young adults in today’s world: the meaning of work; the meaning of leisure—which she quipped—they don’t even know how to spell; and loving relationships.
“Young men and women really suffer from choice paralysis,” Moreland said. “We need to help them move through this. We need to help them think more broadly, more ambitiously and more fully about the lives that they are building.”
During her lecture, Moreland asserted that Brooke and Sophia treated high school like a race with a clear end marker—college. They had won the race. And now that they were in college, they were again treating the experience like another marathon.
“But college is not a marathon,” Moreland said. “It’s a big confusing supermarket—think of Costco or Sam’s Club.
“Brooke races through the aisles, throws things in her cart, and races to the cashier,” Moreland added. “Sophia ends up being paralyzed in one of those overwhelming Costco aisles, unable to move or commit to the 84 rolls of toilet paper.”
They both suffer from choice paralysis. They’re both hungry, but they don’t know for what.
The Villanova Department of Humanities professor later spoke to Brooke and Sophia about four ingredients that would help them move through those aisles: 1) to rehabilitate their imagination; 2) to move away from pro-and-con lists and from right and wrong, and towards goods versus goods or rights versus rights; 3) to not think about what they’re good at, but to think about what they want to become good at; and, 4) to encourage them to seek companions.
The latter point is of great concern to Moreland, who said that young adults don’t know how to form long, loving relationships because of their fear of failure and rejection.
“The hook-up culture is not the problem,” Moreland said. “It’s actually the epidemic of loneliness.”
It starts with technology, and being enslaved to our phones and, for some students, alcohol.
“Marry the two and it ends up being an exhausting social life and a toxic combination for leisure time,” Moreland explained. “How you spend your leisure time shapes you, molds you and changes you, just as much as how you spend your work time.”
Moreland believes we need to reclaim our free time, and redefine how we choose to spend that time.
“There’s an epidemic of loneliness on campuses across the country, and it is heartbreaking to me,” the religious scholar said. “And if they’re lonely, there’s no way to develop a great leisure life because friendship is at the heart of leisure practices. Loving is at the heart of human life, and friendship, loving relationships are at the heart of how we should spend our leisure time.”
In conclusion, Moreland ended with a hopeful story about a group of Villanova students who bonded through a shared passion for playing The Settlers of Catan and service.
Reciting a junior student’s letter aloud, Moreland read: During one night of heavy drinking, we all admitted to each other that we loved playing The Settlers of Catan with our friends and families growing up. We started jostling with each other about who could build the largest settlement.
By the end of the night, the group decided to start playing regularly, getting together once a week to play Catan, which eventually expanded to include other games.
“It was the first time in college that I had done any fun type of activity that was planned other than drinking,” the student wrote. “We became really close, and they’re still some of my best friends today. I actually met my boyfriend through Catan nights. This is my favorite memory of college.”