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On time management: A letter to prefrosh

When I came to Preview in 2014, a senior told me that she found it exceedingly difficult to manage her time here. She told me that the more quickly I learned time management skills, the better off I would be. I wish she had explained why it was so hard. It has taken me three years to understand exactly how we students get in over our heads, and how we can pull ourselves out. In an effort to save you some time, I will elaborate on the lesson I am still learning: how to take care of myself.

At Princeton, it is common for one person to lead multiple lives. I could fill my schedule with academics if I thoroughly completed all the work for my four classes. I could fill it entirely with rehearsals and voice lessons if I thoroughly practiced all my music. I could work on my junior paper morning to night. I could spend all day getting to know people at my eating club. I could forgo school altogether and just focus on the lobbying organization for which I work. Instead, I stretch myself across all these things, am expected to prioritize each one, and end up doing none of them wholeheartedly.

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A lot of us derive twisted pleasure from pretending to be superhuman. I don’t mean that to be cynical. I think we remain awestruck by the privilege of being here. We fear that our undergraduate tenure is passing too quickly and that we will leave too many stones unturned. I didn’t get a spring break this year. I instead chose to take a journalism class that brought me on a reporting trip to Paris. We interviewed people and wrote every day. I was exhilarated. It was wonderful. I also barely slept. Three weeks later, my adrenaline is depleting, my mind is perpetually foggy, and I race against time for the chance to reflect.

Your most formative college moments will come when the wave of obligations crashes so hard over your head that it fully inundates you. You’ll wonder how you got so far under, and you’ll experiment with ways to pull yourself out. A couple weeks ago I found myself there. I was so paralyzed by the number of tasks at hand that I couldn’t complete any of them. I wandered aimlessly for hours between my eating club and Frist Campus Center trying to recuperate even a scrap of ambition. I never succeeded. In spite of myself, I chose to let it go. I hopped in the car with my friends, cranked up the radio, and went out to dinner.

It takes enormous strength of character to convince yourself that living off adrenaline is not noble. There’s no Princeton award designated for those who lead the most balanced life. You have to be so sure of what’s best for you that when someone asks you to take on another project, you simply say, “I don’t want to do that.” You have to be comfortable enough in your achievements to not take advantage of every opportunity. You have to pry yourself away from commitments in order to spend time with your friends, without moralizing your decision.

The term “time management” doesn’t account for the labor that goes into it, just as the diplomatic term “conflict management” euphemizes the challenge of mediating national interests at war with each other. It’s not really about learning to juggle activities. It’s a more holistic process through which I settle myself among my commitments and against my anxieties. It involves carving out time for sleep even where the time doesn’t seem to exist, and being strangely militant about having dance parties on Friday nights. This is radical self-care. Life at Princeton isn’t sustainable without it.

Marissa Rosenberg-Carlson is a Near Eastern Studies major from San Francisco, Calif. She can be reached at myr@princeton.edu.

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