Reimagining free time

April 10, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

Hosting my younger sister on campus for a few days at the end of spring break was meant to give her a better idea of what Stanford is really like, but I’d venture to say that during her visit I learned almost as much about my life at Stanford as she did. Unadjusted to the time change on our first morning on the west coast, we woke up on Saturday morning around six with little hope of going back to sleep. That morning I did my best tour guide impression as I led Lauren around every campus landmark I could think of, but by the time we arrived back at Twain, we still had just over 12 hours of Saturday left to fill. When I asked Lauren what how she’d like to spend the rest of the day, she raised an eyebrow at me. “I mean, you go here … What do you usually do in your free time?”

I paused. I looked back on the last several weeks of winter quarter, trying to come up with a suitable response. My weekday routine outside of class generally consisted of equal parts hitting the gym or triathlon practice, hanging out with friends, fulfilling club-related duties and watching Grey’s Anatomy. But Lauren didn’t have access to the gym, nearly all of my friends were off campus for break, my clubs were on a break-induced hiatus and binging Grey’s seemed like an unsatisfying way to spend a weekend meant for exploring Stanford and the surrounding area.

When I relayed this slightly dispiriting revelation to my sister, she suggested brainstorming my ideal use of free time–how I imagined myself filling my calendar as an idealistic pre-frosh. So I did. I imagined studying in CoHo, on the Law Terrace and on Meyer Green rather than holed up in Twain’s basement conference room. I had wanted to hike the Dish regularly, to take advantage of the sand volleyball court outside my window, to walk to Town & Country and window shop every once in a while.

These were all fairly reasonable expectations that I carried with me into my first year at Stanford, but I’d become caught up in the pressures of academic and extracurricular duties, falling into a routine that involved much more time at my desk alone than I had hoped or planned for. Three days with no school-related obligations remained before my first spring quarter class on Tuesday, and there seemed no better time to cycle through my wish list with my sister in tow.

For three days, I tried out all the things I had hoped to incorporate into my typical schedule over the past two quarters. Lauren and I played beach volleyball and frisbee on Wilbur field, read books and tanned on Meyer Green, and took over a corner of CoHo (no studying involved, but I wasn’t complaining). We walked to and around Town & Country and ate our way through the California Avenue farmers’ market. We spent an afternoon at Half Moon Bay and a morning hiking the Dish at sunrise (which was admittedly only possible due to our EST-adjusted circadian rhythm).

Wanting to be a decent host was the push I needed to fulfill the promises I made to myself when I enrolled at Stanford last year. In the first week of spring quarter, I’ve done most of my readings outside the confines of Stern, walked to the Stanford Shopping Center, Town & Country and downtown Palo Alto and relaxed with a book in the sun. Reexamining how I was spending my free time made me realize just how much I was neglecting many of the opportunities that had drawn me to Stanford in the first place. I may not have any more days truly without responsibilities or obligations this quarter, but changing the way I structure the free time I do have has been the best adjustment I’ve made at Stanford yet.


Contact Jackie O’Neil at jroneil ‘at’

Jackie O'Neil '21 is The Daily's Vol. 259 staff development director and the former executive editor for Vol. 258 and managing editor of The Grind for Vols. 255 and 256. She's a Richmond, Virginia native studying political science, psychology and ethics. Contact her at joneil 'at'

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