Blurry-eyed and half-asleep, I sling my backpack over both of my shoulders and head out the door to the closest dining hall. Grabbing breakfast is always number one on my to-do list. Accompanied by a bowl of yogurt or some oatmeal, I sit in one of the Hill booths and catch up on this week’s news. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. It lets me start off my mornings with a mind free of stress and worries—only the satisfaction of good food and inner peace. I need these moments to wake up and spend time with myself before I start my day of back-to-back classes and meetings.
College keeps you busy. There’s no doubt about that. Between weekly assignments, group projects, midterms, and extracurriculars, there’s always some kind of work that you could be doing. But that goes for everything in life; from school to jobs and internships, we all carry responsibilities. It can seem overwhelming, but time does not care—time goes on, and brings you along with it. College gives us the opportunity to develop organizational and time management skills—strengths that we undoubtedly need to grow and succeed as adults. While this opportunity should not be taken for granted, it’s common for people to forget that being alive means more than just living. As students, we must remember to give ourselves time to relax, have fun, and focus on our own needs.
On campus, there are preconceived notions of what it means to have free time. Doing nothing is misinterpreted as an indication of laziness and incompetence. We grow up with the assumption that the only way to succeed is to constantly be productive, and those who accomplish more than you are inherently better people. So you jam-pack your schedule, push yourself to the brink of your working capacity, and claim to be fine, even though coffee stopped working months ago and you can’t help nodding off in every one of your classes. It’s a habit that you’ve had since forever.
The other day, I spoke with a Penn alumnus who had recently interviewed several applicants for the Class of 2022.
“It was funny,” he remarked, with nostalgia glazing over his eyes. “This high schooler, had classes and extracurricular activities from sunrise to sunset. I asked this girl what she did in her free time to de-stress.”
“Free time?” she replied. “I don’t have free time. I’m constantly stressed.”
The alumnus laughed, a bit of sadness tinging his voice.
“She would fit right in at Penn.”
This conversation tugged at my brain as I reflected on my own high school experience. I drifted through these years in a haze, creating only a blurry mosaic of memories to look back on. I have maybe a handful of memories from junior year—a breakdown on my school’s football field, losing my club’s elections, spending hours studying for AP tests. I kept a mental report card of my progress at school. For every award or accomplishment that my friends received, the more desperate I became to match their successes. If you asked me who I hung out with that year, it would be hard to come up with a list of people.
"I realized that all of my self-worth was derived from the things on my resume, and while I had gotten into college, I was left drained and unsatisfied." Julci Areza
I don’t think I realized how much stress I put on myself until high school was over. That summer, I had no nagging responsibilities or burdens left on my back. Most of my commitments had ended with the school year. I had all the time in the world…and no idea what to do with it. I realized that all of my self-worth was derived from the things on my resume, and while I had gotten into college, I was left drained and unsatisfied.
That summer, I took up running. I found comfort in the feeling of air filling my lungs, my feet slapping the pavement, and the freedom to space out and think about things I never gave myself the chance to. It was fun in the purest sense; I hadn’t felt that pure sort of happiness since I was a kid. With my newfound time, I spent much-needed time with my friends and family. I stopped living life on fast-forward, and I’ve tried to continue this way of life during my time at Penn.
These days, I make a point of integrating de-stressors into my daily routine. Whether I’m eating breakfast alone or going downtown with friends, I make a point of giving myself what I need. School, as a result, has become much more manageable and enjoyable. Even though I may not be at the top of my class, I’ve been happier and more energized. Giving myself time to reflect on my actions and identify things I need to change about myself has allowed me to put more thought and effort into my work.
College is only four years, and your health will impact you for the rest of your life. It’s okay to forgive yourself, treat yourself, and devote some time to self-care.
In the blink of an eye, college will be over. I’d rather remember more than just study sessions and the inevitable L’s; over the course of these four years, I want to spend my days smiling, laughing so hard that I cry, and discovering who I am outside of my classes.