It’s the middle of October, and I’d like you all to take a deep, deep breath with me. On the count of three … 

One, two, three.

I’m trying to live my life in the present. But that’s definitely easier said than done — oftentimes, I’m anxious that I’m not doing enough with my time, or that it’s passing by too quickly. Upperclassmen tell me that college goes by in a blink of an eye. Professors and adults tell me to cherish my time here, because the real world is coming like a freight train. 

It’s true; I can’t deny it. Every semester here so far has seemed to go by in a whirlwind, and suddenly I’m sitting at home a few months later wondering what I’ve done with my time and where it went. Even the beginning of my sophomore year has felt like a floating experience, watching the days morph into each other in a blur of midterms, meals and meetings. 

Sometimes, I do forget why I am here. I forget what I’m doing this all for: why I’m running to my third meeting of Monday night, why I’m agonizing over 30-minute statistics Canvas quizzes, why I’m going to random info sessions in my hours after class. It’s easy to live life at college in a stupor, to just blindly do what you think you should do. We all fall victim to it every day and without conscious reflection, we risk falling into the trap of doing things for the sake of doing them — not for their true, intrinsic value.

Time here is precious. Spending that time on activities without a clear purpose or passion is wasteful and aimless. Figuring out the true value of our time and the things we do is essential in discovering what is truly important to us.

During this time of year, the trap is easier to fall into than ever — on-campus recruiting is still in full swing, midterms are getting more frequent, the weather gloomier, colder, heavier. As we’ve settled back into our lives at Penn, we often stop reflecting critically on what we want out of our lives here, from the meaning of our current education to the jobs we want after graduation. The average Penn student’s Google Calendar is filled to the brim with responsibilities and activities, but in the end, what’s the point? 

Former Yale University English professor and literary critic William Deresiewicz called students of Ivy League schools and elite institutions “excellent sheep:” people who perform perfectly without thinking about why they’re doing it. Helen Nie’s “When I Grow Up” art installation surrounding McNeil criticizes the pressuring culture around OCR and exemplifies the inherent meaninglessness of the “prestigious” job titles we think we should want — trying to get them when we don’t even know if we want them. Both of these examples hit on a theme that is pervasive at Penn — students blindly subscribing to the notion that they must follow the steps of convention.

Living deliberately is a difficult thing to do; however, self-reflection is necessary to figuring out what we truly want, and improving our mental wellbeing too. Instead of the popular viewpoint that college should mainly be about career-building and return on investment, I believe that our education should be about learning how to think critically in a variety of classes, engage in self-reflection and become a more self-aware citizen of the world, not just at Penn. Only when we take the solitary time to reflect can we truly know ourselves and what we want out of not only our careers, but also our lives.

It’s hard to take a step back and reflect, especially in an environment like Penn’s. Our campus often feels like a hub of stress, a huge campus of overachieving students who think they know themselves and what they want when, in reality, they’re as confused and anxious as anyone else. However, only you can make the decision to distance yourself from it every once in a while — read that book instead of rushing to a general board meeting, spend an evening alone, get to know yourself and appreciate your time at Penn and the future beyond that. 

The passage of time may be inevitable and the culture here may be unchangeable, but living consciously, reflectively and decidedly in the present is something that is attainable for all of us, no matter where we are in our Penn careers.


JESSICA LI is a College sophomore from Livingston, N.J., studying English and psychology. Her email address is jesli@sas.upenn.edu. "Road Jess Travelled" usually appears every other Monday. 

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