We Only Get To Do This Once

Photo by Kleigh Balugo

By Sydney Stoddard

As college students, we always hear how we need to do more, work more, and learn more. We have homework to do, internships to look out for and if we dare miss out on some professional-sounding opportunity – we feel like a complete and utter failure. If we just sit and watch Netflix all day, we’re certain we’re lazy, right? Playing video games until 4 a.m. is a waste of time, obviously. Why are we not learning one more skill or studying more or looking for scholarships or internships? Why would we ever prioritize having fun over something productive? Well – there’s this concept called “balance” and we’re all just 20-year-old kids. We only get to do this college kid thing once.

Most people who have gone through college don’t reminisce over the hours they spent studying or the internships they hated or the one more job they did for their resume. That’s not what they loved most. Their memories are usually about friends doing dumb things, funny late nights, and their weekly Bachelor watch nights with their roommates. So yes, sometimes fun should be a priority. Fun is what makes life worth living – not working ourselves to death.

One of my favorite business mentors Kelly Bennett puts it this way: “College is an incredible time to experiment with ideas and explore curiosities.” Instead of just looking down and grinding through her coursework, what she loved most about college was her time “to travel abroad and study classes the were interesting to me” rather than just rush through. “It’s an amazing time to explore what you actually love. And dream of what you can create into the world.” 

Not all of that discovery and growth will happen by pulling countless study all-nighters or chasing one more resume builder. It also happens by going out of our way to do fun things, go on wild adventures, and make time to simply enjoy this unique season of our lives. Feel the university sidewalk beneath our feet at 2 a.m.- freezing in our far-too-thin sweaters and grasping beers we stole off our older friends. Or watching Barbie movies with your dormmates after Calc 3, giggling over the dumb lines, and ignoring your Canvas notifications as Striking Prince #5 can’t find his horse.   

We have our whole lives to work. But what we don’t have is our whole lives to be young adults. I only have 365 days to be 20 and I don’t want to spend all of them working, learning, cramming, and choking on one more thing to do. Yes, there are incredible, exciting, and self-actualizing experiences we should seek out and show up for. We should fully learn from our classes and use our time wisely. However, we should also make time to just be our own age and do what we enjoy. 

My friend Carolina Esteves-Philips wouldn’t let me talk about this alone. She’s an engineering major who keeps taking way over 15 credits on everything from high-level calculus to music production – all while working 30+ hours a week. “Suddenly I found myself drowning in expectations and workload, I was reminded that every second of my life wasn’t dedicated just to prepare for something to come.” In the past, she’s been overwhelmed by constant work. But she has consciously decided to take fewer classes to actually have a life full of “as many experiences as I can, whether it be something simple as getting boba and watching a movie with my friend, or something bigger like taking a new hobby. I’m currently learning a new language and digital art.” She mentioned that she’ll graduate later and have to take out more loans for school, “but at the end of the day, money is earnable while the time I have is not.” 

Her choices may seem odd to the average go-getter overachieving college student, but we really only have one chance to be in college or to be young adults. As Lina told me, “Every moment is a part of our stories and characters arcs, and every moment helps shape our narrative in life, and should be experienced to the fullest.” Do we really want to be students who work ourselves constantly, never making time for friends, fun, or simply existing? 

One of my good friends, Hana Nesbitt, who is a business owner up in Oakland, California, encouraged me this way, “I remember working away my 20’s. Not enjoying them. Is the extra hour of studying really important? Don’t forget to enjoy your life too.”

In my own life, realizing that my college days are numbered completely changed my priorities. I’ve always been the person to do one more thing and never say no to what sounds like a good opportunity. During COVID-19, I joined clubs, started a business, and networked with amazing local creatives. I regret none of it, and in fact, I love all of it, but I don’t want to remember my college years as the season where I was eternally exhausted because I did one more thing. 

My resume isn’t more important than my life. Sometimes staying up until 2 a.m. playing a fantasy RPG is more important than getting up early enough for the networking event. No one will tell me that, but it is. I’ll have my whole life to meet people and make connections, but how many nights do I have to laugh with my boyfriend as we slash monsters and steal people’s cheese breads? That may be more numbered than I realize.

There’s no imaginary timeline that we must rush through by working 80 hours a week. We’ll be fighting that false narrative our whole lives. Perhaps the most productive thing we can do while in college is consciously decide to become people who will enjoy our own lives, instead of people who will mindlessly work them away. Discovering how to have fun alone, how to be a good friend, and what genuinely relaxes and entertains us is just as important as practical skills, resume builders, and good grades, if not more so.


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