Picking and Choosing

Prioritization is the unexpected consequence of UChicago’s rigor.

By Manya Bharadwaj

As 2020 begins, I’ve found myself reflecting on the many changes that took place the past year. I knew that arriving at UChicago’s campus would be one of the biggest changes in my life, but that couldn’t have helped me predict its outcome—my life here has been very different from what I thought it would be. It hasn’t lived up to some of my initial expectations, and I’ve been disappointed more than a few times by just how much time I have to spend on schoolwork. But as the quarters progress, I’m starting to think that maybe UChicago’s intense rigor isn’t such a bad thing after all—there’s a bright side to it. I’ve found that the constant need to maximize the use of my time has pushed me to prioritize the things that really matter.

Last quarter, for example, I struggled to manage my time. If anything, that’s only gotten worse this winter. It’s no secret that our workload is intense, even compared to other colleges on the quarter system, but I hadn’t taken our school’s reputation seriously until I was immersed in it. But my frustration with time management at UChicago goes deeper than the amount of time I spend on classwork—it’s just as much about the work I’m not doing. High-school me had exemplary grades, performed music, led extracurricular activities, worked a part-time internship, wrote in my free time, and still managed to get eight hours of sleep every night. I had this admittedly rosy idea that college would be a better version of that same life, that I would be invested in everything that I wanted to be and still have time to go out and have fun. Now? I’m lucky if I practice the violin twice a week. I don’t go out as much as I would like to, I’m not involved in all of the activities I’m interested in, and I’m pretty sure I could sleep for 15 hours and still wake up tired. The bottom line is that I’m not living up to the person I used to be. I’m not living up to the person who was admitted to this university. I’m not living up to the person I expected to be.

But I’m starting to think that maybe—just maybe—this challenge is a bittersweet blessing in disguise. I’ve realized that while I don’t do a fraction of the things I expected to, I’ve still managed to retain the ones that matter the most to me—writing and playing an instrument. These two activities have been my way of catharsis for a long time, allowing me to channel emotion into creativity. Maintaining them has definitely helped smooth my transition into a new home and city, and I’m glad I’ve been able to join *The Chicago Maroon* and keep up with my violin classes. My writing in particular has progressed from a part-time hobby to a full-time role as a columnist—an unexpected but exciting endeavor.

What’s more, schoolwork doesn’t always exhaust me, despite its difficulty. I spend 10–15 hours a week on my bio class alone, but I look forward to every lecture in a way that I never did in high school. It’s not my ideal study schedule, but I’m starting to find a work-life balance at UChicago, getting rid of some of the things in my life that I can do without, such as classes in subjects I have no interest in, and focusing on the things that matter. I’m now able to choose the classes I want to take and prioritize what to do in my free time. Studying the subjects that interest me most has reignited a passion for learning that I hadn’t felt for a long time.

When I was home for break, friends and family constantly asked me how I felt about UChicago, and, without hesitation, my answer was always the same: I absolutely love it. But I couldn’t follow up with a justification for that, because the first things that came to my mind were complaints about the workload. It took a bit of reflection, but I think I finally realized why I don’t hate this college, despite its negative attributes being the first things that I think of. And ever since, I haven’t been able to reprehend the college without a little bit of reservation. UChicago does more than just push us to prioritize; the tough lifestyle forces us to appreciate the good things more.

For me, that’s been the community. Coming from a high school with a culture that I’d been desperately waiting to escape, UChicago’s community truly surprised me in the best way. I’ve met amazing people at this college, and I didn’t expect to make such genuine connections with some of them so quickly. I already hope that I’m lucky enough to have them around in the long run. I’ve found an environment where clout matters less than warmth and facades matter less than authenticity. That is truly invaluable.

UChicago can be exhausting. It can be brutal. The days, weeks, and quarters can feel never-ending. In the midst of all that, I think it’s important to focus more on the little things that make life here happier: for me, that’s Monday nights watching bad TV with my friends or teasing them about their crushes. We don’t go to an easy school, but we *can* make the best of what that forces us to do: prioritize what matters to us.

Manya Bharadwaj is a first-year in the College.