“The people you love deserve more than your leftover time.”

I can’t recall when or where I first heard this quote — some time over the pandemic — but it’s been on my mind ever since. It was a different way of framing what I once saw as “getting my work done first” or “earning my free time.” This quote was less “me-centric,” more thoughtful. If we can agree that it’s the people in our lives, at the end of the day, that are most important, then what on earth are we running around doing all day? How do the people I love feel, when I only have time for them once my own stuff is out of the way?

This is something I think about often. Each day at Yale is a decision to be made between opposites: to isolate myself in a WLH room? To take it slow in the Hopper courtyard with friends? Or to try to do it all — go to a cafe with a group for some talking and a side of work?

Every semester’s philosophy is different. First year brought with it many lonely nights in Bass, getting ahead on work and being proud of my discipline. I was great at the “I so wish I could but I can’t” and the “It’s time for me to go to sleep now.” I was getting my eight hours, I was an attending member of my clubs, I showed up to work and I submitted things I was proud of – I was “on top of it,” as they say.

It was sometime between first year and my postponed sophomore fall that I stumbled upon that quote. I had always seen my work as something I needed to do, it was my responsibility; while time with my friends was a treat, something I had to earn. But wasn’t it also my responsibility, as a friend, sister and daughter, to keep these people top of mind? To make sacrifices in their honor?

Last fall was very different from first year. I was basking in that post-pandemic, “get back out in the world” and “meet new people” glow, ready to sport my extraversion and my gratitude for the present moment. It was a semester of late night conversations about the sleep we were losing because of just how much we loved talking to each other. There was something so romantic about my friends and I standing in each other’s common rooms and entryways at 3 a.m., milking an inside joke of its last chuckles, or a personal dilemma of its last controversies. Yes, my p-sets were often late and long nighters full of essay-writing were pulled, but my friends and I were choosing each other. 

And that’s when I started to resent the pace of Yale. There are all these things I’d love to do, all these goals I thought I would make mine — a Rhodes scholarship, an admission to a top law school, straight As in all my classes – but then there are all the sacrifices that come along with them. Do these things require negligence elsewhere? Or do some people really do it all?

Many of the most successful and revolutionary people have damaged personal relationships. You’d think that those most capable would also be able to manage and maintain their couple of closest relationships. But the irony is striking: Bill Clinton, Sergio Vieira de Mello, Martin Luther King, Minerva Mirabal and the list goes on, of people whose drive came, many would say, at the expense of their families. Clearly it would be bold of me to be too critical of those on this list. But what interests me are the trade-offs they chose to make, and the trade-offs we must make, as an unfortunate result of our limited capacity to focus. 

This semester I’ve tried to be balanced, to stay away from either extreme. I’m at that point where I’m realizing that getting into law school someday would be nice. But it can be hard to switch back and forth between priorities. I’ve tried to be good about putting my phone on “Do not disturb” during the day, but my friends always feel like they can’t reach me. I’ve tried to be honest with myself about the fact that I’m only productive alone, but how many times can I turn someone down before it seems like I don’t care? And when does that become true?

The tricky thing is this: I want it all. I want so badly to be present with my parents over the phone and to call my sister more often, and to make sure my high school friends are feeling good about their senior years and that my friends here don’t feel lonely. That seems at least as important as law school.

So what I’m trying to figure out next is how to make a case for a lowering of the bar of law school admissions if I prove I’m spending extra time on emotional support, depth of connection and other meaningful things like that. I know the answer is no, but a girl can dream.

MICHAELA MARKELS is a junior in Hopper College. Her column “Critique of Human Reason” runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at michaela.markels@yale.edu.