Hello, and welcome to Ask a Super Senior! I am very old (not actually, actual-old people), very bitter and have made at least 50 percent of the mistakes it’s possible to make here at Yale. And yet I am still here, still thriving and here to help. Send me your questions, and I’ll do my best to dispense my profound life wisdom — all 23 years of it.
Dear Super Senior,
Could you advise on balancing friendship, job hunting and classes? How does someone begin senior year — or any year for that matter — trying to embrace the (for lack of a better word) YOLO attitude of spontaneity and hanging out with friends with actually really needing to do work? I feel like this is a question people grapple with all four years here — how do we balance spending the afternoon on cross campus with people you love versus opting for a library or coffee shop without feeling like you’re cutting yourself off?
Dear Tripping Hard,
Ah, friends. I knew what those were, once, before all of them decided to graduate and leave me — an egg — to my own struggle through university. Traitors.
I think in order to really figure out how you want to balance your time, you need to figure out what you’re trying to get out of your time here at Yale. A lot of people see this place as one where you get your degree and yeet, with a good job and lots of clout. The Yale Corporation sees it as the place where it can groom little Yalies to give its neoliberal institution more money and fame. I see it as a place where you get to grow as a human being, begin to solidify your identity as an individual in the community of the world and learn to grapple with all that entails. Really, it’s up to you.
As a growing adult, you actually get to decide what you think is important for yourself. You weigh all the factors in your life — your family, your culture, your values —and shape it all into a messy ball that constitutes the way you live your life. When it comes to friends and work, I don’t think that “if I choose one I’m deserting the other” is a very helpful mindset. Instead, I’d suggest trying to simply appreciate each as they’re happening and let go of the guilt of not doing the other. (In the case of an Intermediate Micro pset, maybe just be like, “Wow, cool, math, I guess.”)
I think that what we learn here is really cool and important! Still, don’t spend your whole life on it. (Low-key, spend lots of time on the classes that stretch your brain in cool and fun ways, and lean into not knowing stuff? And screw the rest.) Don’t define yourself by how well or poorly you perceive yourself to be doing, or are actually doing, in classes. I would suggest not taking yourself seriously, but taking your ideas and your actions seriously. We’re all kind of a joke, and it’s better to be in on it than not.
I also think that time spent with your friends, like really spent with your friends, not just partying or getting coffee but lying on the floor of your common room at 2 in the morning eating Sour Patch Watermelons and talking about the meaning of life, is going to be some of the most memorable time you spend here. When I was away on my year off, I definitely most missed being right there with my friends, through their joys and through their struggles. I even missed lying on the floor at 4 a.m. writing papers and whining incoherently.
So if you can, try to exist in the moment. When you’re doing work, try to focus on only doing work; when you’re with your friends, try to focus only on being with your friends. (Braindumping out the stuff you have to do into a to-do list is pretty helpful for me. Save that hard disk space in your brain for something good, like laughing at a garbage-eating raccoon.)
That’s hard! I know! I’ve checked my phone at least twice while writing this column. Still, trying to be, as the kids (or Laurie Santos) say, “mindful” is fundamentally how we move towards happiness. Taking the time to notice when you read something that you found really cool, or when your friend makes a stupid face that you want to never forget — these can remind you of what you find important, of why you’re here.
And it can remind you, honestly, why we’re alive in the first place. Think about it this way: we have a very limited time on earth, and we only ever get to exist in a tiny fraction of that time — which is right now. What are you going to do with it?
It’s not just about being individually happy, although that is good. It’s about reclaiming your time and your attention from a university and a world that really wants to monetize it for no good reason, whether it be through social media, investment banking, or the Popeye’s chicken sandwich. (Which I still want to eat. Sorry, consumer capitalism.)
Personally, I’d like you to find joy and meaning in that period of time, whatever that means for you. As long as it doesn’t involve being actively mean. Don’t do that.
Lots of love,
A Super Senior
Titania Nguyen | firstname.lastname@example.org .