Opinion | Prioritize personal time


Meg Houseworth, Executive Editor

1,141. That’s how many hours I slept during school last year. That’s approximately 6.135 hours a night, two hours less than the recommended sleep time for teens. And as I scaffold for data from my Health app to write this column, I feel equally saddened and ashamed by the tiny rectangles that line my screen—reminders of my former poor sleeping habits. At the time, I fully comprehended the pain that I was putting myself through, but my desire for straight A’s felt much too important, so personal time fell low on my list of priorities. 

My need for academic validation didn’t begin my junior year, but it certainly did amplify to an almost unbearable extreme. By May 2022, I had felt its physical consequences: tense shoulders, fuzzied thinking, and a loss of appetite. I was emotionally irritable and anxious, pouring hours of effort into seemingly monotonous assignments because no matter the point-value, I believed everything counted. I had been on autopilot for ten months, merely coasting by until June. I told myself that my sacrifices would eventually pay off—that my “hard work” was indicative of a bright, successful future. 

But now, as I reflect on my persistence, I wonder: was it all worth it? Not only did I impair my physical health, I sacrificed my personal relationships—the most treasured component of the human experience. Countless hours spent studying meant time away from my family and friends. I vividly remember turning down an opportunity to attend my friend’s Thanksgiving potluck because I was instead at Coffee Lab working on my junior research project . . .  two months before it was due; to you that may seem like an obvious bad decision, but to me it seemed like the right one. Even during designated school breaks I had spent my time completing homework, missing out on time to enjoy my adolescence. This continued into the summer, where I completely ran myself into the ground, juggling two internships, a summer camp, conducting research in Chicago, and working 30 hours a week. These opportunities were undoubtedly rewarding, but while all my other friends spent their afternoons at Clark St. Beach, I was in an office building. 

Sometimes I worry that I matured too fast, that I filled my plate with impossible tasks to successfully manage. I did it because I was (and still am) passionate and driven, but it led me to neglect being a kid. In 8th grade I anticipated the quintessential “high school experience”, filled with harmless rebellion, intimate friendships, and self-discovery. I imagined myself ditching class with friends just like Sloane Peterson had done in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and having a picture-perfect relationship similar to Cameron and Bianca’s in 10 Things I Hate About You. Yet once I entered highschool and the opportunity to explore these various social scenes opened, my free time was primarily occupied with meetings, studying and preparing for my future.

  Don’t get me wrong, academics matter—but they shouldn’t consume your entire life. We’re put on this earth to explore, create and connect; that means actively living in the present, not passively living. I regret the times I turned down a movie night at my friends house or a lakefront walk with my mom because I instead “had to do homework”. Life is far too short to spend ruminating about grades and assignments. Living unconditionally means recognizing when it’s important to put time into doing the “hard work” and when it’s important to prioritize love and friendship—-a lesson learned from last year. 

This September, I’ll be 1,749 miles away from home. When I look back on my time in Evanston, my fondest memories won’t be filled with getting A’s or a decent score on the ACT, it’ll be filled with the shared giggles, tears, and smiles from moments spent with friends. As I take the next step and enter a new chapter, I won’t think about numbers and statistics, but rather the experiences that will fill my heart and soul. 

So my advice: learn how to balance school and your personal life. If you’re someone like me who lives a regimented schedule, block off at least four hours a weekend to live presently with your loved ones. I dare you to say “yes” to the next social opportunity that comes your way. Let yourself relax and breathe. You deserve to be a kid. You deserve to have fun. Life is a beautiful thing, and it’s far too precious to waste.