TIM: It’s the summer before my sophomore fall. And I’m headed back from the lab to my fraternity. I go up to the fourth floor. I sit down at my desk. I take out a notebook, much like this one, and a pen. And I just start listing everything I do, literally everything that I spend my time doing. That’s not restricted to clubs and classes. That’s also eating. That’s going to the gym, exercising, sleeping, even. Everything that I spend my time doing goes onto this piece of paper. And I ask myself, is this worth doing?
Of course, eating, sleeping, exercising– that stays. But really, that question, when applied to things like my clubs– is this something that is worth spending time on, something that brings me intrinsic joy in doing something that I think is good work to do? I asked myself that question. And sometimes, the answer was, I’m not really sure. And sometimes, I crossed things off that list.
So how did I get here? I experienced a radical shift upon coming to MIT and experiencing student life here for a couple months because I had grown so tired, so sleep deprived– four to five hours of sleep, on average, a night– that conscious thoughts no longer were pervading my mind.
I would be walking down Amherst Alley, down Mass Ave, or I’d be going down the Infinite to my class. And I was just so tired, so disconnected. I felt like a machine. And it’s not a good way to go through life, in such a mechanical fashion. But when you’re busy around the clock, and you get to bed at 2:00 AM every single night as a result of all the clubs and classes that you’re in, that can happen.
And I would say things went on like that for a time. And they really came to a head when I was getting dinner with a friend one night. This was near the end of the semester, so a couple weeks before finals. We’re doing the classic Simmons– we’re both living next house– so the classic Simmons late-night special– just her and I just chatting about how things are going, chatting about classes, finals.
And then, at one point, at one interlude in the conversation, there’s a pause. And then my friend asks me, so how are you doing, Tim, just in general? How are things for you? And I remember just leaning back in my chair, and I didn’t answer right away. My mind was blank. And I said, how am I doing? I don’t really know.
And to be honest, I hadn’t asked myself that question for months because I was so busy around the clock, around the clock– classes, clubs– so many clubs. And when she asked me that question, I was just taken aback. I was like, I don’t really know. And honestly, for the preceding couple months, I had this growing, growing feeling that, like I said, I felt mechanical, like an automaton, like I wasn’t really in control of things. But I couldn’t really express that adequately in a way that just captured that.
But sitting there at the table across from my friend as she’s just watching me, waiting for the answer, the words just came out eventually, finally. And as soon as they escaped my lips, I knew that they were true. And I knew that this was what I’d been trying to tell myself for the past couple months.
And I told her, I feel like I’m just a character in my own story. I don’t feel like I’m the author of my own story right now. And then that just sunk in. She was understandably very perplexed by that answer. And I myself was still figuring out what that meant. But I was like, I think that’s true. I think, in some sense, I had lost a lot of control, a lot of autonomy.
And so that’s how things proceeded until the end of the semester. And then, next semester, same thing. I felt very, very mechanical. And it was a dark time– exciting, fun, like the first semester. But overall, don’t recall much from it because I just didn’t take much time to take stock of things, put things into perspective.
So then we come to the summer, and things got better again. I had a break. I got a chance to make up on all that sleep, or maybe some of it, as much as I could– the sleep that I didn’t have. And overall, things got better enough that I could actually take a step back and say, all right, this is ridiculous. How can I prevent this from happening to me a third time, all right? What is it that I can cut out of my schedule? I knew I needed to cut something out of my schedule. So what am I going to cut? What’s the most logical way to go about doing that?
And that brings me to the beginning of this story, where I’m sitting at my desk with this list in front of me, and I have all of the things– not just clubs, not just classes, but everything that I do– in front of me. And to be honest, it’s daunting. I’m like, wow, I do a lot of things. Holy cow.
And going down this list, I was thinking, eh, there’s reasons to drop some of them, but it’d be kind of hard. Once you’ve made a commitment to do something, it’s very, very difficult to just go back on that. I mean, oftentimes, there’s good reason to do so. But I’m the type of person that, when I commit to something, I’m going to see it to the bitter end. And I was going down this list. And it’s kind of mixed feelings.
And then I come to this one club, and I said, you know what? I don’t need this club. I could be spending my time doing many other things– my hobbies, learning a new skill, or just sleeping because I definitely– I needed to make more room for that at this point, no doubt. And so that was the first club where I pulled out my pen, and I just decided, cross it out. I mean, it doesn’t feel great to do that. But in this case, I think it’s OK.
And it’s funny because after doing it for that one club, it was like the gateway club. And after that, the floodgates were open. And I started thinking about it in a more formalized way, like, OK, so these different clubs– do they bring me– why would I stay in a club? Well, it’s different reasons. It’s because you know people in the club. You like people in the club. A very, very large part of it is, does it bring you intrinsic fulfillment? Do you align yourself with the work? Do you believe in it? There’s all kinds of reasons that we often– I mean, I at least didn’t often consciously describe to myself.
And so I went through the list, and I found that there were a few others, at least, that I was like, I like it. I like the people in the club. But the work is OK. And there’s honestly other things I could probably be doing, honestly, just for my own well-being, if not more. So that was what enabled me to pare down what I was going to be doing for the next semester and align myself with a much, I would say, more balanced and healthy schedule.
This conclusion I came to is, it only makes sense to do the things that you find intrinsic joy from. You derive intrinsic fulfillment because those are some things that you’re not wasting your time by doing them. You do it for the sake of the thing. And so I think this is a good conversation that anybody can have with themselves. And the answer will be different for everyone.
But for me, what I came to the realization of is, whether it was for my entire life, in some things, or something I discovered at MIT, there were certain things that I kept coming back to in my life that I just– I just did them. That’s just me. That’s who I am. And I think, yeah.
All in all, after this process, it’s a work in progress. And now I’m a sophomore in my spring semester, still working out the kinks– lot of organizational issues, of course, lots of time still unaccounted for– still trying to figure out how to allocate it, divvy it up well. But I can say affirmatively now that I am in full grease mode. And now, more than ever before, I am indeed the author of my own story and not just a character in it.