This past weekend I celebrated Yom Kippur, the highest Jewish holiday — one that revolves around atonement for our sins and what is known as the Book of Life. Yom Kippur isn’t exactly a jolly holiday, but rather one that centers on reflection about one’s life and perhaps mortality.
As I listened to the rabbi speak about his dying mother and the few precious moments they had left together, my mind wandered to graduation. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around my own mortality, but the end of my life at Penn feels very real — in fact, it’s only eight months away.
In a sense, our Penn experience mimics a human life cycle. Freshmen are babies, learning through observation and trial-and-error the necessary skills for survival and success. We mature throughout the years, experiencing a wide variety of adventures and then senior year, we’re old. Walking down Locust Walk with a cane on Hey Day symbolizes this harsh reality.
Instead of telling you that “college flies by” or “it’s the shortest four years of your life,” I have a new tidbit of advice: Stop using the word “sometime.” It is perhaps one of the most deleterious words in our vocabularies.
Strolling through Van Pelt at 4 a.m. or asking your professors how many emails they receive from students in the 12 hours leading up to a midterm will reveal that Penn students have a penchant for procrastination.
The problem is that oftentimes this procrastination transcends the boundaries of studying for midterms and writing papers by carrying over into our social lives. We tell ourselves that we’ll do those less urgent, non-graded things — the things we want to do just for ourselves — “sometime,” but that almost always translates to “never.”
I recently ran into a friend of a friend, someone that I’d like to be closer with, in an elevator. As we reached the ground floor, we concluded our conversation with the classic “Let’s get coffee sometime!”
“Yeah, I definitely want to hear about your summer sometime!”
But “sometime” may as well be where future plans go to die.
Throughout my time at Penn, I’ve told myself that I’ll become a tour guide “sometime,” take Anthropology 063 “sometime” and go downtown for Philadelphia’s signature First Friday event “sometime.” I may accomplish these things during the next eight months, but looking back, I realize that “sometime” will never naturally present itself. You have to make it materialize yourself.
We keep waiting for the sky to part and our G-Cals to magically clear, all of the colored blocks turning white. But believe me, they never will — there will always be a new episode of Breaking Bad to stream or reading that took three times longer than expected to finish.
Dan Ariely, one of my favorite authors and a behavioral economics professor at Duke University, recently coded an iPhone app that expresses the value of money in terms of opportunity costs — you could buy a $40 sweater or a pizza and two movie tickets. It’s quite easy to think of dollars we’re spending in terms of what we could be buying instead — perhaps because money is tangible — but it seems to be quite difficult to conceptualize time this way.
Although no one has coded an app for it yet, we should get into the habit of thinking about time not in terms of what our G-Cal dictates for that hour, but rather in relative terms, focusing on what that same amount of time might “buy” us. There’s no such thing as a free lunch — or a free hour spent studying in Van Pelt, for that matter.
So here’s my (unsolicited) advice: You don’t need to sign up for 50 different listservs, but if there are certain activities you want to join, classes you want to take or friendships you want to build — do it now. As soon as you fall into the trap of telling yourself you’ll do those things “sometime,” I can almost guarantee you never will. Just delete that word from your repertoire.
Hopefully, when we all look back on our time at Penn, it will be marked by memories of everything we accomplished, rather than regrets about things we didn’t get to do.
Caroline Brand is a College senior from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at @CBrand19. “A Brand You Can Trust” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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