As anyone who has studied for a PSYCH 70 final can tell you, we tend to regret the things we didn’t do more than we regret all of the embarrassing, guilt-inducing or downright idiotic things that we’ve actually done. Whatever the psychological explanation for this phenomenon, it certainly seems to ring true as I look back on my first year at Stanford. All of the times I stayed up too late before an important exam or presentation, decided I wouldn’t need an umbrella twenty minutes before a winter quarter downpour, wore a pair of heels altogether inappropriate for the amount of walking I knew I would have to do on a Friday night, and forewent nutritious dining hall options for a dinner consisting primarily of sweet potato fries seem insignificant now, and when I consider my biggest regrets from the last year, most of them boil down into my failure to keep up the resolutions I made as an over-eager pre-frosh during NSO.
I can’t blame my past self for not sticking to all of the goals I had in mind for my first year. After all, I was fully expecting the NSO whirlwind to die down during the first few weeks of fall quarter — instead, a chaotic juggling act left me with little time to do anything more than sleep and try to stay on my feet while balancing schoolwork, extracurriculars, budding friendships and a determination to avoid FOMO at all costs. I had a better freshman year than I had ever dreamed or anticipated, and generally my reflections on the past ten months are overwhelmed by happiness and early-onset nostalgia. With that said, calculating the sacrificed outcomes of my failed promises to myself makes me all the more determined to stay on track with my resolutions in the coming year.
- I mistakenly believed that only one sentence per day would be a reasonable journaling goal. As it turns out, the minimal “one sentence” requirement isn’t as important as the “per day” condition. One missed day inevitably turned into one missed week, and that was the end of my journaling resolution. If I had filled the pages of my One Sentence Daily journal with reflections, I would now have the benefit of a 262-entry chronicle of my freshman life.
- It’s safe to say that gym visits did not feature in my daily routine as prominently as I had hoped. If I take for granted the fitness world’s assertion that almost anyone can conquer a marathon after 24 weeks of training, sticking to this resolution would have given me 13 and a half weeks of wiggle room to work up to the 26.2-mile race. With a little more dedication I might have spent my spring break triumphantly crossing a finish line instead of lying poolside all day, every day.
- In an effort to handle stress more effectively in college than I did in high school, I decided to practice daily meditation once I arrived on campus. This habit lasted all of three days, and I found myself frustrated that I wasn’t able to practice for more than 10 minutes at a time. If I had started small and committed, I may have been able to increase my daily sessions from five to ten to twenty or thirty minutes, accumulating more than 3,000 minutes of zen by the end of the year—which would be well worth the increased clarity, focus and calm that accompany consistent meditation.
- My determination to enjoy as many sunrises and sunsets as possible was quickly dashed by the need for sleep in the mornings and a steady slew of homework and other obligations in the evenings. Had I reduced my expectations to only one Sunday morning sunrise per week, I still could have caught 32 of them during my first year instead of snoozing through brunch and missing out on the natural beauty that surrounds the Stanford campus.
- I promised myself I’d take advantage of the Dish even before I realized how close it was to my room in Stern. Despite the fact that I could get to the entrance in just a few minutes, I ended up hiking or running the trail only a few times. If I had maintained a weekly streak throughout the year, I could have walked or run the Dish trail 32 times, logging just over 115 miles.
- When winter quarter hit hard, I got into the unfortunate habit of whisking my meals directly from Stern Dining to my room, where I continued working, reading or studying in between bites of whatever lentil soup was on tap that day. Though my multitasking skills benefited greatly from this daily practice, I missed out on the opportunity to share meals with friends and dormmates. If I had kept up the habit of eating dinner in the dining hall four or five nights each week for the second half of the year, I could have traded endless studying for more than 100 valuable conversations with my peers.
- During my NSO, when Provost Drell charged my class to connect with professors at office hours, I truly believed that I would do so. In reality, a combination of inconvenient scheduling problems and completely unfounded nerves kept me from visiting a professor’s office hours more than a handful of times. If I had taken the time to approach a professor once a week to talk about a shared interest for half an hour or so, I could have spent more than sixteen hours of my first year forming important relationships with people who are experts in the fields about which I’m most passionate.
- When I crammed my suitcase full of way too many books on the way to NSO, I didn’t imagine that all of them would end up collecting dust for the duration of the year before being shoved back into a duffel bag for the trek home in June. Now that I’m home for the summer and finally making headway on my reading list, I wish I had taken some time to do the same while at Stanford. If I had read a book of my choosing once every couple of weeks, I could have gotten a 19-book head start on the pile currently accumulating on top of my dresser.
- The fast pace and quick turnover inherent to the quarter system left me missing the year-long extended projects that I completed during my high school years. I briefly considered filling this gap by slowly writing the first part of a novel. I never actually made it to the “create Word document” stage of this plan, but if I had written just 500 words four times a week from the first day of classes to the last, I could have created a respectable 75,000-word dent in the first draft.
- After hiding indoors from Virginia’s 100% humidity index all summer, I spent the plane ride to Stanford daydreaming about lying out in the sun as much as possible. Had I committed myself to two dedicated hours of sunbathing per week while at school, I could have logged 65 hours under the sun and potentially returned to Virginia less vampirishly pale.
- After a flat tire paired with my stubbornness and laziness rendered my campus bike defunct for the months of November-June, I walked everywhere I went on campus and in the surrounding area. In all of that time alone with my headphones, I easily could have cycled through all of the podcasts I set out to listen to at the beginning of the year. Instead, I jumped around a truly embarrassing collection of Spotify albums heavily featuring One Direction and the pop country genre. Had I spent that time more wisely, I might have walked away an expert on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, early American history, Beatlemania, or any of the other million podcast topics available on iTunes.
- Between working part-time jobs throughout the school year and doing my best to get the maximum possible value out of my mandatory meal plan, I had high hopes for developing some money-saving habits. Instead, most of my savings materialized as Trader Joe’s hauls and unnecessary retail therapy after tough exams. If I had saved $20 every week of school, I could have finished out the year with an extra $650, the equivalent of four flights from San Francisco to New York City, 13 pairs of my favorite flip-flops, or 63 Ike’s sandwiches.
- In the case of my resolution to commit at least one act of kindness each week, the foregone benefits don’t end with me. If I had performed one good deed for someone for each of the 32 weeks of the school year, who knows how many people’s days could have been made by a chain reaction of kindness?
As I consider the opportunity costs of my failure to keep up my first-year resolutions, an obvious question remains: what for? What exactly was it that ultimately proved more important than a potential novel, the possibility of getting impressively ripped at the gym or countless foregone knowledge from all of the books, podcasts and office hour conversations I didn’t end up engaging with?
On balance, I’m more than content with the way my first nine months at Stanford turned out. While I didn’t wake up to catch the sun rise as many times as I would have liked, I managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to make it to triathlon practice with respectable frequency—at least during fall quarter. Though my ambitious stack of just-for-fun reading material didn’t make it off the shelf until move-out, I fell in love with my classes and found myself completely engrossed in assigned reading material for the first time. Despite my failure to stick to a daily meditation ritual, I experienced moments of peace and true happiness every day.
And while my list of unrealized resolutions might suggest total failure, I did manage to pull off one impressive feat during my time on the Farm. In what can only be described as a procrastination daze during the final months of spring quarter, I plowed my way through every single existing episode of both Grey’s Anatomy and Jane the Virgin on Netflix. A reliable internet source tells me that the necessary time input for such an accomplishment comes out to a whopping 294 hours over eight and a half weeks, for a slightly inspiring and equally depressing average of 4.32 hours per day. Just imagine all the sunsets I could have enjoyed with that much time on my hands.
Contact Jackie O’Neil at jroneil ‘at’ stanford.edu.