Editors’ Note: This piece originally appeared in the 2019 First Year Issue, published on August 2, 2019.
As I packed up my things in my tiny dorm room, stripping the walls of tacked-up photos and a colorful, patterned tapestry with a map of the world, I couldn’t stop crying. Instead of being relieved that finals had ended, I realized that the next time I would be packing up my room at Yale, it would be for the last time. Good old-fashioned nostalgia was kicking in. I was powerless to stop it.
With the onset of senior year, we frantically create bucket lists and shed most of our extracurriculars. Most haunting of all are the regrets that bubble up in the back of my mind as I fall asleep. Often, regrets sound something like this: “I wish I had tried out this intramural or taken a class with this professor.” And looking back on my Yale career, I have some of those regrets, too — taking more history lectures and going to more shows. But strikingly, I don’t think what I regret most is not doing enough. Rather, I regret doing too much. I wish I hadn’t been so committed during my time here.
Coming to Yale, we’ve done everything we could to be well-rounded. That was the whole point of the holistic admissions process, right? This often resulted in stretching ourselves thin among accelerated classes, diverse extracurriculars and volunteer work. On a normal day, I’d get less than six hours of sleep. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but it was all for college. Or at least that’s what I told myself.
When I got to Yale, I realized that I couldn’t sustain that lifestyle. I needed eight hours of sleep to be a functioning student and person. However, it was hard to escape a rhythm I had been perfecting for four years, and with Yale at my fingertips, I didn’t want to waste its vast resources and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Like most first years, I signed up for too many clubs at the Extracurricular Bazaar and ran from event to event. I committed myself to draining extracurriculars and a heavy course load, forcing me to miss out on suite trips to Target and my best friend’s shows — until I decided that it was all too much.
Soon, I scaled back from the commitments that made me unhappy, and by second semester of my first year, I was surprised to see how much happier I was. You should certainly try new things in college, but don’t overcommit. Granted, I’ve met most of my friends through classes and extracurriculars. But I wish I had spent more time in the Berkeley dining hall, letting a meal linger for one, maybe two hours, until the bell started ringing and we absolutely had to clear our plates. I wish I had devoted more time to my academics, indulging in my readings rather than skimming them so I’d have something to say in section. I wish I had spent more late nights in the buttery and took more trips off campus. Honestly, I wish I had spent more time doing nothing at all.
At Yale, I’ve heard so many times, “I just feel guilty taking a break,” or, “I couldn’t relax because I felt like I could’ve been doing more productive things.” Isn’t that terrible? That we can’t even enjoy the free time we’ve hastily added in our Gcals because we think that every second we spend without tangible output is wasted?
I remember coming to my suite on a rainy April day, my mind overflowing with fragments and thoughts for journal entries, but it was already 11:30 p.m., and I had an early morning the following day. I sighed, pushing reflection and a simple break down to the bottom of my to-do list, unimportant if I had nothing to show for it.
It’s a broken record. Four years, don’t waste it. The push to be constantly productive has made many an appearance in my columns. But almost four years later, I still feel it. So, let the tangential conversations over problem sets continue unencumbered. (They’ll get done… eventually.) Just remember that your fellow club members are, above all, people, too, and most importantly, don’t think that your academics and extracurriculars are more important than your well-being.
I really wish I had more time to reflect, to grow, to laugh and to love. This problem won’t go away once any of us graduate, so maybe start remedying it now. You have four years ahead of you, and it may feel like graduation is light years away. Please remember that time is a precious gift. My senior year, I’m trying to give myself the gift of time. I shouldn’t have lent it all away in the first place.
Hala El Solh is a senior in Berkeley College and a staff columnist for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .