I consider myself a fairly organized person. I start assignments well before they’re due, am addicted to Gmail labels and, for a brief but ambitious period, kept a spreadsheet of expiration dates for all the food in my fridge.
But the one area where I’m completely unmethodical is writing papers. Many students can make an outline and fill in the pieces. I spend days researching tangential topics, create rambling 30-page documents saved as “WTFISMYLIFE” and then finally take a step back to mold the mess of bullet points and run-on sentences into something coherent — maybe even something with a point.
I don’t start essays with a sense of what my argument will be, and I didn’t start Penn with any perspective on where I would end up. Only when everything is sprawled out in front of me can I start to consider what it means.
So what have I learned? First, not to work too hard. I used to make 20-page outlines of 25-page readings and spend hours agonizing over a single sentence. As a reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian, I spent a full day perfecting my first story, only to have my editor chop two-thirds off for space.
It was not until studying abroad — when faced with the tradeoff between staring at an assignment and exploring a new city — that I realized what it means to relax. Some things are simply not worth stressing over, and we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously.
But there’s an important caveat to this. If you love it, embrace it. For me, this was my senior thesis, the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education’s white paper document and a few other captivating projects here and there. Looking back, I realize how much satisfaction I’ve found in immersing myself in something, putting the pieces together and having it all click, even if a moment later I start all over again in “WTFISMYLIFE v9.”
It’s not that I’ll miss making dorky walks of shame back from Van Pelt Library after an all-nighter or subsiding on vending machine trail mix, but I'll miss what the experience represents — the freedom to throw myself into something and make up for it with a three-day weekend. We’ll have few other chances in life to dedicate ourselves so completely without consequence. We’re saying goodbye to an era of handpicking responsibilities from course rosters and activity fairs, and of sometimes skipping those responsibilities for a walk to Center City or a well-deserved nap.
Part of what makes graduation scary is that we’ve become so secure within Penn’s comfortable environment and conventions of success. Right as I’ve found the perfect combination of caffeine and carbs to fuel a late-night study session, I’m entering a world where I have to be alert during daytime hours.
Among the many anxiety-inducing aspects of my post-graduate journey is that, as a teacher, I won’t be able to plant myself at a coffee shop table or library desk until my paper is perfect, taking as many snack, bathroom and Facebook breaks as I desire.
It’s not just about essays and exams. We’ve finally learned to manage our lives here, and we have to move on. Do I know how to manage, motivate and challenge myself in new contexts? This is not a column with an answer. But I think the lesson I’ve learned — about picking my battles and devoting my energy where it counts — is a solid starting point.
When I write, I spend a lot of time backtracking because I’m insecure about not knowing exactly where I’m headed. And at the cusp of college, we spend a lot of time negotiating what we have accomplished and what we might have done differently. So I could add some sort of reflection about how we don’t need to follow standard templates or how rough drafts make the final product stronger. But I’m going to take my own advice and stop revising.
It’s not going to be perfect, but the point probably comes through. Turn it in, log off and move on to the next exciting thing.
Jessica Riegel, a former Features Editor, is a College senior from Westfield, N.J. After graduation, she will work for Teach for America in New Orleans.Comments powered by Disqus
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