Things I Learned my Junior Year at Stanford

My third year at Stanford has come and gone, and the thought of only having one year left in my undergraduate career looms large in my mind. Unlike the past couple years, the end of Junior year is more hazily defined – I’m getting ready for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra’s International Tour to Mexico and Cuba over the next couple weeks, and I’m going to be living on campus this summer. Finals are over and grades are in, though, which I think is as good enough a marker as any.  I’ve had a lot on my mind this year, and I think it’s time to share.

The Junior Slump is Real

Last year, I didn’t feel any “sophomore slump.” This year, I admit that it finally caught up to me. By the middle of Winter Quarter, I was incredibly stressed out. I had taken on tons of responsibilities, maxed out my academic course load with a 20-unit quarter, was dealing with group projects where others just didn’t seem to care as much as I did, turned down a couple internship offers because they conflicted with SSO’s Tour in the summer, and felt like everyone was always too busy to hang out and do stuff with me – unless they wanted some Economics help, that is. On top of all my pressures, the inauguration of Trump and a confluence of other political and socioeconomic tensions across the globe was really affecting the campus climate – polarization has hit another peak in its (roughly) 50-year ebb-and-flow cycle, which just added more stress from dealing with people’s opinions on both extremes.

Know your Limits

In the middle of Winter Quarter, I wasn’t happy. It was a small realization, but an incredibly profound one, a realization that was hard to swallow. I love Stanford; I love the people on campus, the things I get to experience, the beautiful architecture I bike by on the way to class. At the same time, the things that Stanford allowed me to do were starting to pile up, to a point where I was always worrying about multiple ongoing issues each day. This year, I was a TA for ECON50 (Advanced Microeconomics), a “Creative Catalyst” (theme associate) in Lantana, the student representative on the Stanford Bookstore Committee, Marketing and Tech Lead of the Stanford Economics Association, Senior Associate of the Stanford Pre-Business Association, President of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, and the only undergraduate I know of to be asked to serve on a faculty committee and vote on a faculty position – our next Director of Orchestral Studies for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. All of this sounds great on LinkedIn, but these positions meant that I couldn’t just be on top of my stuff – I had to be on top of what everyone else below me was working on, so that if anyone fell behind on their tasks I would know and could nudge them to keep things running smoothly. It also meant dealing with lots of questions and critique: why can’t we release the tour shirts early? What do you think about this market research proposal? How can I get a lot of people to join this event? Are you sure the student voice is being heard on the faulty search committee (this one in particular was kind of insulting – I literally joined the committee to make sure the student voice was heard)?

Honestly, I tried doing too much this year. I did a lot, I accomplished a lot, and I’m very proud of what I was able to do, but successes came at the cost of my mental health. I can’t, and won’t, do that again. Next year, I’ll still be in leadership positions, and I’m still going to try hard in academics, but I’m definitely going to work on prioritizing the social relationships that have suffered this year.

There’s More to Life than Academics

Tons of extracurriculars plus very heavy courseloads ends up leaving a lot less time for socializing. In truth, although academics are very challenging, the strong prioritization and sense of “I need to be on top of my academic stuff all the time if I’m going to tell my students to do the same” led to me having some sizable chunks of downtime. Unfortunately, that downtime was often solitary – friend would be in class, or were busy trying to finish a pset that they had procrastinated on, or sometimes I just didn’t have the willpower to reach out to another person again for no reason other than to say “hi”. Sometimes, friends would be doing something, and I was the one who was too busy working on a pset or in the middle of class to engage with them.

Winter 2017 STATS191 snapshot
A snapshot of part of a pset I was working on in STATS191

My advice here is not to disregard academics, or start taking “easier” classes. Instead, the key word here is “moderation” – make academic pursuits a priority (this is still school, after all), but don’t make it the priority. If a friend wants to go do something spontaneous, and it’s unlikely to get you killed, it can often be a very worthwhile endeavor to temporarily leave your pset or study preparation for. Instead of mindlessly watching TV or browsing the internet, reach out to a couple friends who you haven’t seen or talked to in a while; I would have loved more people doing that to me, and I’m sure they will appreciate it as well. We get so wrapped up in our mundane realities that we forget to cherish the extraordinary opportunity of being surrounded by incredible peers and friends, in a community where someone living “far away” means that it’s at most a 10-minute bike ride to their place. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in many college campuses, let alone around the world.

Make Opportunities for Yourself

For all the anguish, I have gotten to enjoy some wonderful experiences with friends, or even by myself, during my Junior year at Stanford. I celebrated quite a few 21st birthday parties across campus (and the Bay Area – I drove to Berkeley for the 21st birthday party of a good friend from high school); although Lantana lacked a ski trip for the 2nd year in a row now, we did spend a weekend taking in the ocean views of Santa Cruz from a beach house the dorm rented; I gained advice from several prominent figures, like Justice Sotomayor, Janet Yellen, and Bill Draper;

Perhaps best of all were the opportunities where I spoke up or stood up and helped make that opportunity. I planned many of these opportunities in advance. I made time to go support my friends on the volleyball team, and was rewarded with an intense 5-set match where the Men’s Volleyball team proved victorious. I played my part in calling on some connections in the Stanford network and advocating for all my friends in our wacky Band after learning of LSJUMB effectively being banned on campus. I pushed myself out of the apathy that’s all-too-easy to fall into and decided to watch friends perform on their instruments, sing in their chorales and acapella groups, compete in feats of athleticism on the field or in the water, and even dance a coconut dance at a Filipino cultural festival. Even the simple things led to wonderful results, like getting to know the triple in Lantana really well. Miguel, Raveen, and Connor were gracious hosts when I wanted to spend some time working in the dorm, but outside of my room, and became great new friends over the course of a year.

Then, there are the spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment decisions that leave a magical, ethereal imprint on one’s mind. Joining a group of dormmates on a late-night trip to Half Moon Bay, wrapped up in blankets, watching and hearing the crashing waves under the light of a full moon; wandering the piers of SF with Victor on a Saturday when we were both free; hopping onto a Caltrain with Elise (in full Supergirl attire), as well as hundreds of other Stanford students, to add our voices to the March for Science; even applying to a company because of their self-proclaimed love of food, puns, and food puns – a startup called Instrumental, where I’ll be working on Business Development (and possibly baking muffins and cookies) this summer.

Conclusion

There’s a lot I did this year; there’s a lot that I’ve gone through, and that I’ve risen above. I may have hit a low point, and done too much, and tried to juggle all sorts of responsibilities until everything felt like it was all crashing down, but I survived, and I can pass what I learned along to future students. It’s hard to chase that happy medium, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned after my third year at Stanford, it’s so incredibly important to find that balance in your life that you love. As Senior Year dawns just a few months away, I’ll continue to move towards the mix of things that I want, that I think is precious. Enjoy the good things that come your way, and take in the bad ones, too; each experience makes you that much closer to finding your balance.

 

 

IMG_1810
Land, sea, and sky, with myself balanced in the middle. It’s a pretty good metaphor for where I want to be.
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