During the first week of school, I bought myself a planner and vowed to fill up every single line of every single page. I’m not quite sure when exactly I settled on that decision, but it very well aligned with the advice I was given at that time. In the whirlwind that was the first few weeks of my college experience, I was told by everyone from my parents to my RFs to the enthusiastic, red-clad upperclassmen cannoning t-shirts into a crowd of jittery NSO freshman to just do everything.
I juggled a shopping list of five classes during Week One. I applied to club after club. I hopped from one social event to another, wandering among an exhilarating amount of new people to meet, see and connect with. I rarely settled down in my own room.
But although it was incredibly exciting at first, my rabid schedule-piling soon caused burnout to settle in. I realized that I derived more satisfaction from checking items off my to-do list than I did frantically running from one event to another. At Stanford, I seemed to be on a hyper-fast, time-warped hamster wheel that never slowed down.
That hamster wheel finally spit me out sometime around the third week, when a friend that I’d only briefly chatted with over the summer reached out to me. “Let’s grab lunch sometime! I’d love to have a deep convo with you.”
What did that mean? What did a deep conversation between two people that had only sporadically met entail?
But because I’d been caught in a loop of icebreakers, the introductions and “Where-are-you-from-what-is-your-major” question combos, I was ready for something new. I scribbled a 30-minute lunch into my planner.
The moment I stepped into Stern Dining to meet her, she lit up with an effervescent grin and reached out to warmly hug me. Her gaze never wandering, she was attentive and focused solely on getting to know me better.
After we piled our plates with food, the 30-minute lunch proceeded to become a two-hour extended conversation that dissolved any remaining unfamiliarity between us. She was from Britain, and I was from the Midwest, from vastly different cultures and family backgrounds, and yet we threw ourselves passionately into discussing our shared love of languages and reality shows, breaking down the difference between American and British politics and debating the merits of progression in the AI industry.
Long after we finished lunch, we lingered reluctantly over our plates of leftover fruit, neither willing to be the first to get up. I hadn’t checked my phone in hours, and I didn’t want to, hoping to stay and continue talking. But finally the time warp once again torpedoed us back in motion: she had class in 10 minutes. Before we left, we exchanged numbers, hugs and earnest promises to continue the extensive conversation that we’d started.
On the way back to my dorm, I thought that maybe I needed to switch up some of my priorities. I’d once thought that getting the most out of my college experience meant plowing through extensive to-do lists, cramming classes, extracurriculars and social events into Gcal and the margins of my planner. If only I could attend an infinite amount of events and gatherings, maybe I could be fully tuned into the Stanford freshman experience. But I’ve realized that it’s impossible to fully engage in a huge breadth of activities and social interactions without pause, and that aiming to do so all the time might maintain a certain level of superficiality that would be difficult to transcend.
I will be the first to admit that on that day, I might not have finished as many problems on my pset or gotten my laundry done at the time I had planned for. Still, I came away with an incredible sense of fulfillment, promising myself to take up her initiative and seek out more of those small, often overlooked moments that don’t necessarily fit neatly on a calendar. Moments in which I could slow down and remind myself to deeply engage in the effusive, brilliant energy of my peers. Moments that help me feel fully grounded and settled in a school and community that has become my home.
Contact Christina Li at cli24 ‘at’ stanford.edu.