Last week, my fleece jacket moved from the depths of my closet to the back of my desk chair, where its warm linings welcomed the crisp New Jersey fall. The new season has not only confined warm, humid summer to the wisps of steam lingering above hot coffees, but also it has ushered in a new atmosphere on campus. I can’t quite pin down when my lazy Netflix searches turned into frantic keystrokes spitting out an essay, nor when nightly conversations with roommates became groans amid practice exams, accented with the occasional existential howl at a particularly stumping problem set.
While we often decry the stress culture at Princeton, we fail to recognize that every complaint we spew and close-cut deadline we protest compounds the pressure of academic work. The overwhelming presence of over-caffeinated and under-rested minds made me initially wonder why Princeton Christian Fellowship thought it would be a good time to run Questions for Quesadillas — an event seeking to answer students’ deepest questions about religion by delivering warm quesadillas to their rooms.
After hearing two PCF representatives tackle the seemingly impossible task of explaining an omnipotent good God in a world of suffering, however, I realized it is during the periods of mental exhaustion and insurmountable work that we most need a small dose of healthy conversation. We can decompress by talking about the greater things in life.
During midterms, it is difficult to justify stepping outside study carrels and all too easy to sacrifice a normal social life. We see the few minutes of productivity lost to a mealtime conversation or the precious thought wasted on an intellectual discussion that won’t be transcribed into another research paper as the first casualties of the testing season. They are replaced by an unyielding and stress-contorted desperation to be productive.
As I was sifting through textbook pages full of equations that seemed to melt together, the philosophical dialogue wafted through my open door. Call it being easily distracted, but having listened, I soon realized a few things completely aside from learning more about my friend’s opinions and the Christian faith.
The two PCF representatives and my two roommates had the same number of assignments and exams as I did. Unlike me, however, they weren’t trapped between textbook pages. Rather, they were engaged in a stimulating discussion, unhindered by any midterm study guide.
Sure, I could have gotten through a couple more pages of reading, or another fraction of a part of a problem set, but I gained something a little more valuable by setting my work aside. I left the conversation pleasantly refreshed and returned to what had been monotonous work with a clearer and less tired mind. Regardless of how inundated with work I am, and that finding these pockets of reprieve is exactly what makes the work manageable.
As students here, we are unified through the strain of ceaseless academic pressure, each bound by a desire to achieve and fastened to an unhealthy addiction to glorifying work. I can’t say the small act of partaking in a midnight conversation on the mysteries of life will break that harmful chain. It does, however, help distinguish true intellectual stimulation from ruthless mental exertion, actions we often and unfortunately confuse.
Ethan Thai is a sophomore from Chandler, Ariz. He can be reached at email@example.com.