As if the act of leaving home weren’t enough, the beginning of college is a whirlwind of stress, excitement, and utter confusion that even the best Judy Blume book cannot prepare you for. Some react with recklessness, diving headfirst into curfew-less life by refusing to sleep, eating Cheetos for breakfast, and shamelessly laundering colors along with delicates. Me? I reacted to my newfound freedom—or free fall, depending on whom you ask—by locking myself in my dorm room and scheduling every second of my college career. 3:45-5:00: lecture. 5:00-5:45: dinner. 5:45-6:00: walk home. 6:00-6:15: stare at the wall. I thought that if I organized every bit of my day, broke it into color-coded sections in my planner, than life would stay predictable enough to distract me from the loneliness that ate away at my stomach. As long as I kept to my schedule, no one could shake me.
The problem, of course, was that no one could shake me. Other than leave me with an impressive set of highlighter markers, all my over-organized life did was keep me away from the millions of opportunities waiting just outside the lines, just down the hall, in the interactions that bloom in the spontaneity of each moment. It sounds strange, but the hardest—and best—thing I ever did to balance my schedule was to throw away my schedule altogether. When I look back on my four years in college, the biggest gift I gave myself was the permission not to know: not to know what I was going to do in five minutes, hours, or years. After all, the time left unscheduled is where the juicy stuff happens—new friends walk by your open door and ask what you’re doing. “Absolutely nothing,” you tell them, and you take a deep breath.
Jenna Tico is a recent graduate from Scripps College. She lives in Santa Barbara, California with her family. Vote for Jenna’s entry here.