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I’m a sophomore now, which means I can offer unsolicited advice to freshmen, and they have to take it because they just don’t know any better.
Due to my charming personality and the various “mentorship” roles I fill within different organizations, freshmen often come up to me brimming with questions of how to spend their time at Harvard “right”: What clubs do I join? What classes do I take? How do I decide what I’m going to pursue at Harvard?
To all these questions, my answer is the same: Only do things you really love. Only commit to student organizations and research positions and club sports if they either bring you immense joy, or are in service of something that brings you immense joy. If your first thought before an extracurricular meeting is, “God, I really don’t want to go to this,” followed by, “I’m never going to use any of this in my life,” drop it.
This is not high school part two. There is no college admissions committee part two who you need to impress by becoming president of a consulting organization while juggling cancer research and volunteer work at the local soup kitchen. You do not need to fill your time with activities you hate to pad a resume or impress interviewers. I guarantee you that jobs and higher education will not care. And if they do — maybe they want to see activities related to your field of study or their area of expertise — perhaps it’s worth questioning why you want to go into a field that brings you no joy.
This goes for all types of activities. So many people at Harvard distinguish between “work” and “fun” extracurriculars, where “work” extracurriculars are an unhappy grind that you just have to do because college is a grind, and “fun” extracurriculars are squished into your remaining time so that you’re not completely miserable. You should love the pre-professional organizations you’re in just as you love playing intramural volleyball, making art, or going on Harvard-sponsored backpacking trips. You should even love your classes as much as any “fun” activity.
“Love,” of course, is a word that is hard to quantify. Perhaps you do not love, per se, the grueling late-night problem set grind of a class. But you find the content of the class interesting and appreciate how the knowledge you gain from this class will pave the way for more exciting, intellectually stimulating classes in the future. Then this class is still in the service of joy, and I would say that you love it.
Still, your love for your commitments on campus must be internally motivated. Often the people make or break a student organization, so the people within a club can factor into your enjoyment. But if the people are your only reason for staying, if the content itself makes you feel nothing or worse, that’s worth questioning. Many freshmen follow their friends into year-long obligations or get swept up in the Harvard cultural cloud of student organization clout, when in fact, they don’t love what they’re doing. Drop those commitments you don’t enjoy, and join activities that you would do even if you were the only person at Harvard doing them. You can make friends in any student organization — and often, those friendships are stronger because you share a love of the activity and structured meeting times every week or so.
Your time at Harvard is limited. You have four years of two semesters each to spend here. You will probably never do an “extracurricular” again after your education finishes. You will change over these semesters, and it’s ok to drop and switch and move around commitments as the parameters of what brings you joy change.
Moreover, your time, in general, is bounded. Within every semester, every week has only seven days, and every day has only 24 hours. Why would you fill the limited time you have with commitments you hate — that bring you no joy at all? As the common college adage goes, you’ll experience the highest highs and lowest lows at college, often one directly after another. Please don’t set yourself up for more unhappiness.
In your four years of college commitments, chase joy. In your vision of the future as extrapolated from your life now, chase joy. You can set yourself up for daily happiness, and it starts with dropping that activity you always wish you could skip.
Christina M. Xiao ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Eliot House.
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