I feel like I’m always playing Tetris with my Google Calendar.
But then again, who isn’t? Penn, and the college experience in general, is overwhelming. Many of us often find ourselves completely caught up in classes, clubs, preprofessional activities, and social events. My friends often accuse me of not greeting them on Locust Walk, and I joke that I have no peripheral vision on the walkway — mainly because I’m always speed walking to the next place where I am supposed to be.
Though having no peripheral vision because I am walking too fast may be an exaggeration, the notion of going from place to place without pause is not without its truth. I often find myself hopping from party to party, class to class, and meeting to meeting. It can be difficult to find time for activities that one enjoys purely which are unrelated to academic or preprofessional discourses. The popular concept that you must choose two from the triangle of enough sleep, good grades, and a social life is apparent for many in the Penn community.
While I am no guru at time management, struggling to block out time for pure relaxation, I have found an effective way for me to find balance on a day-to-day basis: securing a fixed pastime in my schedule. For me, that fixed pastime is singing with my a cappella group, the Penny Loafers. Though the notion itself does not pertain only to performing arts groups — it can be anything that you genuinely enjoy, whether it be singing, club sports, community service — the possibilities are endless.
Though the idea of taking seven hours every week to rehearse when I could be relaxing may seem paradoxical, the purpose is to procure enjoyment in an activity that cannot be bumped out by anything else in the schedule. As rehearsal is blocked into my schedule every week at a fixed time, regardless of how busy my day is shaping up to be, I always know that at the end of the day I could put it all aside for two hours and enjoy music. In many ways, it forced me to clock out of my normal schedule and enjoy a pastime without feeling like I have let time pass by.
Studies have shown that in general, students who participate in extracurricular activities of different varieties achieve better academic standings. It is not only because extracurriculars provide time off from academics and allow us to exercise different parts of our brain, but they also encourage us to expand our horizons. In the Penny Loafers, there are students of Wharton and Engineering as well as College of Arts and Sciences and Nursing. We are members of the Penn Nominations and Elections Committee, editors of The Daily Pennsylvanian, tutors in the Weingarten Center, athletes of Penn’s track and field team, brothers and sisters of fraternities and sororities, cheerleaders, and more. Last year, one of us was even named a Rhodes Scholar. By engaging in conversations and spending time with each other, we broaden each other’s horizons by bringing in a variety of perspectives on issues.
Some may argue that academic discussions achieve the same effect without building extra time blocks into our schedules. However, being able to discuss and share perspective during our “fixed time off” does not limit the topic we approach, whereas a classroom discussion may very well do that. There is no limit to the expansiveness of topics because at the end of day, it is a casual conversation between a group of people who love to sing together rather than a classroom discussion. Moreover, while many in the community genuinely enjoy academic and preprofessional discourses, participating in an extracurricular that does not pertain to those discourses can expand horizons beyond our usual field of involvement.
I am still playing Tetris with my calendar, but by positioning the right tetrominoes at the right time, things gradually begin to fall into place. With its extensive academic programs and preprofessional culture, Penn is overwhelming. Sometimes it can be hard to find room to breathe. Though it may be hard, it is all better with something you’re passionate about built into your schedule. As antithetical as it may sound, we all must force ourselves to relax from time to time.
JESSE ZHANG is a College and Wharton sophomore studying Marketing and Communication from Shenzhen, China. He is the DP’s Photo Editor. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.