One of my favorite things about Yale has been watching my friends obsess over their passions: bold start-up ideas, intimidatingly complex research projects, exercise regimens required for military service. When working on these projects, their eyes visibly light up. I consider each of these pursuits a “10 out of 10 opportunity,” the type that truly inspires and can’t be turned down.
As an undergraduate, I pursued my own 10/10 opportunity during my junior year, when I was the editor in chief of this very paper. That meant from 6:30 p.m. until 3 a.m., five nights per week, I was working away at the Yale Daily News building on York Street.
People often ask me whether such an intense time commitment took away from my college experience. Quite the opposite. I loved editing the News because I believe in this paper and the students who make it.
Other people ask whether it’s my nature to be so busy. Again, the answer is no. I just chose to prioritize an especially exciting opportunity over my personal life for a specific period of time, as many of my classmates did while here.
Editing the News taught me important lessons about leadership, commitment and my own limitations. One of those lessons — the one that feels most relevant to commencement — centers on how I plan to balance my adult life: by prioritizing work when presented with a 10/10 opportunity, and by slowing down when such an opportunity does not exist.
While at Yale, 10/10 opportunities have looked different for each of us: directing a play, competing for a spot in the starting lineup, leading a campus movement. What ties these experiences together is that, while pursuing them, our passions and hopes took over. For me, that’s what editing the News felt like.
But those moments only come by every so often. And when they don’t — when 10/10 opportunities are nowhere to be found — I have learned while in college how important it is to pump the breaks.
A trap that many Yale students have fallen into, myself included, is the feeling that if we’re not working on something, then we’re doing something wrong. That’s how I felt during my first year here. But my time with the News taught me just how wrongheaded that attitude was.
Once my tenure as EIC came to an end, I instinctively filled my time with a random assortment of tasks. Going from editing the News — a job that meant so much to me — to artificial busyness was at first rather depressing but ultimately clarifying. After a few weeks, I learned to say no to nearly all of the responsibilities that I encountered. Yes, I still pursued the occasional 10/10 opportunity, but by and large I saw my friends, did my readings and slept. I now consider my senior year to be the most personally rewarding of my time at Yale, largely because of the friendships I strengthened over the past nine months.
My point here is two-fold. First, I disagree with people who say that work should never take over your life. If you have a 10/10 opportunity, go all in. Those moments are fleeting and should be taken advantage of.
But I also disagree with people who let work dominate their lives by default. Work can’t always be so exceptional. That’s why it’s called work. If you lack a 10/10 opportunity, by no means abandon what you’re doing. Just move a bit more slowly.
I am still struggling to get this middle ground just right: diving into 10/10 opportunities, and prioritizing my personal life when such an opportunity does not exist. It’s a hard balance to strike, partially because it is not always clear what, exactly, qualifies as a 10/10 opportunity, at least to me.
As we enter adulthood, none of us should be afraid to pour ourselves into our work at times of particular inspiration. At the same time, none of us should be afraid to focus on ourselves when our work just isn’t all that great. I encourage my fellow graduates to try to live both of these lives: to find fulfillment both professionally and personally. We may not be able to have it all, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.
David Shimer is the editor in chief emeritus of the News.