Don’t Sell Your Soul for College Y’all

Meiling Mathur, Deputy Editor, Arts & Entertainment

If you looked at what I was doing in 2020, you’d probably find me lying on my bedroom floor watching YouTube videos of Hilary Hahn playing violin, or in the kitchen attempting to make tapioca pearls, or huddled by my window drawing anime characters. I spent the pandemic going on walks, customizing my Spotify playlists to perfection, and reading stories by Dazai Osamu.

Not very exciting, I know, and certainly not anything I could’ve put on a college application or job resume. But, despite how stressful and isolating the pandemic was, I had something very special that I don’t have much of anymore: free time. I had the freedom to compose on my piano whenever inspiration struck me. I didn’t have to be in bed by 9pm or wake up at 6am for school; I could stay up as long as I wanted to do whatever I liked.

In retrospect, my pandemic habits probably weren’t the best for my academics, but having flexible time allowed me to process everything that was happening in a relatively healthy way.

As the pandemic progressed, my piano improvisations and anime doodles turned into compositions and art projects. My classical music playlist turned into a wishlist of pieces I wanted to play, and the words I jotted down in my Notes app became poems, song lyrics, and narratives.

Hardly anything I created over the pandemic was ever seen by other people, and that was okay — my art didn’t have to be the best in a competition or receive perfect scores or earn the approval of others, it just had to be mine.

When junior year started and we went back to in-person school, my life did a one-eighty. I woke up every morning at 4am to practice violin. I joined Breezes and the Writing Center, and my mornings and afternoons were devoted to tutoring peers, volunteering, and interviewing people for articles. I went to MN Orchestra concerts on Fridays, quartet rehearsals on Saturdays, and violin lessons on Sundays. On top of everything, I was balancing six AP/IB classes with Minnetonka Research, and I was also learning how to drive.

It was hectic and overwhelming, and I was having the time of my life. Caught up in the excitement of being involved with so many new activities, I didn’t stop to think about what I was really doing. I felt fine at first, but things started to take their toll. I was running low on sleep, I didn’t have time to hang out with my friends, and I barely saw my family at home because I was always working in my room.

I started viewing any moment I wasn’t working as being a waste of time, so I kept signing up for commitments to fill up my day until I had zero free time left. And even though my LinkedIn was looking great and I was winning awards for my research and academics, I felt like I was losing touch with myself.

More concerningly, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to say no to commitments or spend time on things that weren’t related to school. If there ever was a day where I didn’t have anything important to do, I’d become restless and extremely unhappy. I was turning into, for lack of a more sophisticated term, a teenage workaholic.

When summer started, everything came to a screeching halt. I thought I was going to lose my mind. Even though I was still busy traveling for college visits and music camps, the weeks I spent at home felt infinitely long, and I didn’t know how to function without my to-do lists and agendas. It felt like the pandemic had started all over again, but this time, I was really struggling to adjust to the slower pace of things.

Eventually, I started revisiting some of my pandemic pastimes. I began taking walks again, listening to new music, drawing things I liked, and reconnecting with my friends. As the days passed, I realized how much I’d missed being able to do relaxing things and that the time I spent on myself was just as, if not more, important than the time I spent being productive.

I can’t say that I did a very good job of prioritizing my free time this past school year, as my senior year ended up being even busier than my junior year. But now that summer’s coming again, I’m hoping to do a better job of allocating time for myself.

Of course, I still have plans to keep busy, as I’m excited to start an internship and keep playing with my string quartet. But I also have plans to relax and do fun things, like teaching myself how to cook and learning yoga and finishing that piano sonata I started composing two years ago.

Yes, I’m a student, and a violinist, and an intern, and an editor, and a teacher, but I’m also a person who needs their hobbies and downtime as much as anyone else. I’ll always seek out the intellectual stimulation that comes with working on a project or making progress towards a goal that I’ve set for myself, but I’m also learning that it’s okay to do things that I want to do for no other reason than to make myself happy.

The moral of the story: balance is important. It’s tempting to sign up for everything at once, especially if you’re starting to think about college and wanting to build a strong application. I will be the first person to underscore the importance of getting involved, as exploring new interests is a wonderful way to meet people, sharpen your skills, and grow as a person.

The key to remember is that, while there will always be an infinite number of experiences and opportunities out there, we only have finite amounts of time and energy. Don’t fill up your schedule to the point where things start overflowing at the expense of your sanity; instead, figure out what you want to spend your resources on and ensure that you still have time left over to do the things you like doing. Your college applications will be okay, as long as you make sure you’re okay first.