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Mama didn’t raise a quitter: a lamentation in five parts

Mama didn't raise


Pull up your schedule for me real quick. ReCal, TigerHub, that one crumpled sheet of loose leaf where you tearfully scribbled out your final courses before add/drop ended. If you don’t already have it filled in, picture where all the club meetings, theater rehearsals, sports practices, and weekly study times would go. 


Now, which day is your “hell day” — the day when you have the absolute most to do, with little to no breathing time? Which day has you sitting in class for hours on end, biking frantically from New South to the E-Quad in a meager 10 minutes? Which day has you darting from club to club, from a capella to dance? Which day has you stuck in three-hour night labs with 400-page readings due the next morning? Which day has you skipping lunch? Dinner? Late meal? Sleep?

My hell day is Thursday. As far as academic schedules go, it’s pretty routine: lectures from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., break for lunch, precept until 4:30. Things start to get tricky after that. I have not one, not two, but four music rehearsals, running from 4:30 to 10 p.m. I have to leave two of those rehearsals early just to make it to the next one on time. The earliest rehearsal’s runtime hasn’t been finalized yet, but I doubt it will leave enough room for a dinner break.

So, who’s to blame? I can’t change my classes, because I actually like all of them this semester, and it would cost too much to drop them at this point, anyway. I can’t blame the conductors, because rehearsals have always been at those times. I can’t blame the first-years in the quartet I’m playing in, because we’re all trying to fit rehearsals into our crazy schedules.

Unfortunately, there is no one else to blame for this except me. Me and my ravenous appetite for stress; me and my constant fear of missing out; me and my compulsive desire to please.


There’s a disease spreading through academia, and while I wouldn’t call it contagious, it’s definitely chronic. Many of us displayed symptoms in high school, perhaps even earlier. I like to call it “Common App Syndrome” (CAS). More commonly, it’s referred to as “overworking.” Who’s to say which is right? (I am. I’m right.) 


I, like many of my classmates, tried to do everything as a teen in order to build up a beefy college application: I took as many APs as I could, played in nationally recognized music groups, and participated in every Honor Society I was qualified for. I volunteered on the weekends and collected books to send to my mother’s old primary school in the Philippines. By senior year, I was averaging five to six hours of sleep a night. 

I was thriving. I was also extremely depressed. 

But Princeton thought my Common App was rockin’, which ... makes it all worth it, I guess (I’m grateful to be here, but was it worth the years-long mental strain?). 

Finally, as a college student, all of my high school stressors are long gone. Problem is, years of sleepless nights have made that stress my primary drive. Without it, I binge “The Good Place” on loop or nap the day away. CAS persists long after high school, and its effects are debilitating.

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To combat idleness, I take five classes every semester, and a quick run-down of my extracurriculars puts the total at about 10, half of which are music groups that meet for at least two hours a week — usually more. Watch the free time dissolve with the like an Alka-Seltzer tablet in boiling water. Hello, stress! I missed you. Here, sit down next to me while I do my calculus homework at 4 a.m. I made you some coffee; I hate the taste, but I do enjoy the smell. Hold me as I weep over not knowing the difference between line and path integrals, won’t you?


As of writing this, I’m in five(ish) music groups, but I only joined three of them at the beginning of this school year. I decided to branch out in hopes of playing more challenging parts, which can sometimes be in short supply for percussionists. So far, though, it’s been more of the same: I count a million measures of rest before hitting a triangle, or I play steady, quiet timpani rolls, or even sit out for entire movements. The repertoire is objectively beautiful — just not very engaging.

Why don’t I quit? Well, it’s a lot like queueing up a movie only to discover it was produced by Adam Sandler; I find myself disappointed but unable to give up. What if the plot is intelligent and nuanced? What if the romance is tender, profound, and built on mutual respect? What if the lead, inexplicably and invariably played by Sandler himself, somehow manages not to spill chili-dog sauce on his bowling shirt? Similarly, what if one music group plays some wild, modern, percussive piece next semester, and I’m not there to play it? I’ve already made it this far; I practiced, I auditioned, I paid my dues. It doesn’t matter if I’m not having fun right now, because what if that changes in the future? What if, what if, what if?


A few years back, I made a New Year’s resolution to start saying “yes” to more things. I figured that I already regret most of my decisions. I’d rather do something and hate it, rather than not do something and miss out on it potentially being really fun. So far, it’s worked out tremendously. I’ve taken chances I wouldn’t have otherwise, I’ve made a lot of friends, and I’ve discovered new passions.

The only issue is, I’ve forgotten how to say “no.” Rather, I never knew how, and now it’s gotten worse. How do you say “no” when you’ve already said “yes”? How do you admit to someone that their thing — a thing that they’re so passionate about, that they thought you’d love, too — just isn’t your thing? I’m a people-pleaser. I want to make everyone happy. I can’t quit this; the conductor seems to really like me. I can’t quit this; my friends are in it. I can’t quit this; my parents will be disappointed. I can’t quit this; I’ve never quit anything. I’m not a quitter. I’m stronger than that.


I’m always trying to remind myself that quitting isn’t weakness. In fact, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, quitting is the strongest thing you can do. You’re practicing self-care by eliminating unnecessary stress. You’re telling the world that you know what you want, and no amount of outside pressure can force your hand. You’re aware that the bonds you’ve formed with friends and mentors can withstand the lack of a mutual extracurricular.

My situation hasn’t become much better since finishing this piece, but I’m taking baby steps. Two music groups have conflicting rehearsals on Saturdays, so I asked one of them if I could take a semester off. It’s not much, but it’s something.

I hope you’re not overcommitting yourself the way I am. If you are, though, I hope you’ve found comfort in knowing someone else has it the same way. Take care of yourself. Set aside some time to figure out where your priorities lie. Be proud of yourself for trying to do so much. Be proud of yourself for realizing when it’s too much. Even if you don’t quite yet have the confidence to make your schedule yours again, know that I’m with you all the way. We’ll suffer through Sandler’s “Grown Ups” together. Maybe we can manage to leave before the credits roll.