It’s 2 a.m. and I’m wrapping my mind around all sorts of integrals under the light of only my desk lamp. I pop a Vitamin C tablet from the bottle on my desk, just for fun, and make myself yet another cup of tea. I get up to stretch, just like I did five minutes ago, and I scroll through my Instagram feed until it’s overrun by adverts. I switch to Snapchat – I watch all the updates, full of people living their best lives. Many of these stories are manufactured, I know, but they still leave me feeling a little hollower inside. My instinct for self-preservation kicks in so I put my phone on airplane mode and tuck it away.
I return to the integrals, and I swear they are shifting underneath the beam of my desk lamp. Iridescent and beautiful, but eternally unobtainable like floaters in my eye. I wrote that simile during yet another break – I think it speaks to my state of mind. From my open window, with a gust of the wind, in rushes a littering of laughter. Every few minutes another round of laughter erupts, and I grow annoyed. Why are they laughing so loud? Why can’t they just close the window? I am all vitriol as I think, We get it: You’re having a good time with friends at college at all hours of the night. Life is a perpetual sleepover! You’ll recount these late-night convos when we’re about to graduate in four years or even, perhaps, at each other’s wedding toasts shortly thereafter.
We get it.
Truthfully, I didn’t get it, but I definitely wanted to. How can they be like this? Can someone teach me how? I resented my happy dormmates because they were living out the archetypal college experience I’d sought for so long – all throughout high school – while I slaved away at a p-set, secluded and consumed by an unreasonable pursuit of perfection. I had regressed into the one person I partly despised and partly admired, but mostly feared: my high school self. (Taylor Swift is a close second.)
As a first-quarter frosh, I wanted College Megha to be a little different to High School Megha. The latter worked like crazy, all in the name of becoming the former. There were (many) times when sacrifices had to be made – I had focused on a few interests and tried to achieve my goals and, ostensibly, it all worked out. Here I am, an undergrad at Stanford University: my dream school.
You would think that all my hard work would be vindicated after reading that Congratulations! on the admissions portal, but it wasn’t. To be sure, I’m proud of myself and I know more than ever that hard work pays off. I also know, however, that excessive work can pay off, too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I should strive for it. When I graduated high school, I thought it a job well done, yet I also had a list of regrets: from quitting softball because I needed to study for exams to attending a not-super-interesting club meeting instead of having lunch with friends. The common denominator was delaying gratification, working in pursuit of a singular goal rather than a balance of interests. I promised myself college would be different. I was therefore distressed to find, this quarter, the old me – turning down plans or spending hours in the library – re-emerging.
Fortunately, I now have something the old me didn’t: self-awareness. I know this p-set won’t matter in four years, it won’t even matter by the end of this quarter. I am bent on not falling into the same rabbit hole twice, so I sought out a solution; as it turns out, this solution was right under my nose, literally. All I had to do was walk downstairs and join the conversation, the laughter.
I’m not planning on denouncing academia for nonstop good times, but now, when I work, I remember to surface for air. I walk down the hall and distract a friend (the ethics of my solution are admittedly dubious) or call my parents (whom I also neglected in high school). I make sure to go see that super cool speaker, even if I have an assignment due in a few hours, and maybe I’ll visit friends in LA this President’s Day weekend, even if I have a midterm the week after. A balancing act can be stressful, to be sure (read: duck syndrome), but practice makes perfect.
We all have work, and we always will. No transition in lifestyle will really change that. SAT prep can turn into LSAT prep. Twenty AP classes can turn into an honors thesis. College interviews can turn into internship interviews. Your professional or academic life will constantly have to coexist with your social life. There’s no point denying yourself the latter while you focus solely on the former. Don’t put your head down and take it, in hopes that someday, somehow, you will finally be fulfilled and, alas, it will be fun time. Because, not to be morbid, but it might be too late by then. It’s okay that the old me is dead, because the new one is going to live it up before she’s actually dead.
Contact Megha Parwani at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.