Skip to content ↓

COVID-19

Learn more about how MIT Admissions is responding to COVID-19 in this blog post from our Dean and new dedicated FAQs.

MIT student blogger Phoebe C. '18

More on balance by Phoebe C. '18

Some parameters for self-improvement

I’ve spent the past few days untangling my personal life, which has lately been less than exemplary. In addition, on Sunday evening, I ate dinner with my brother (MIT ’17), aunt, and uncle (who live in Boston), and then I finished reading The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s a novel about balancing family and American culture; I identify strongly with the main character Gogol and also, to some extent (and not without shame), the character Moushumi. If you’ve read this book, please feel free to send me an email.

It’s Wednesday now. On my floor is a suitcase containing a suit and a sundress. In less than 48 hours, I will be in Houston, both for the SASE national conference and for the warm weather. I’ll (hopefully!) be blogging about that in the near future.


In the meantime–here’s a list, dated 10/02/2015. It contains some parameters by which I have been evaluating myself lately. Feel free to just skim the bullet points because the sentences below them are heavy on self-reflection.

To balance

  • community/individuality (presence/absence, travel/home)

This semester, I moved to a new hall within my dorm (East Campus). I’ve spent a lot of time living by my own agenda; I’m there less than half the day, and even then, it’s mostly to work or to sleep. I seem to value the pursuit of my own goals a lot more than I do building a community. I need to work on being present more often and more actively.

  • respect/freedom (yuppie/hippie)

How important are other people’s opinions/social norms? My parents care very much about image and reputation. Many of my best friends are pretty uninhibited and attempt to live by exclusively their own principles–maybe it’s also because we’re young. In any case, my parents and my friends are two very different kinds of happy. The Namesake touches on this distinction; I think that it favors the latter sort of lifestyle because it is a coming-of-age story that takes place in America, but it recognizes the value of the former, because it is a story about the immigrant experience and using external markers to highlight the success of one’s life.

Either way, I should try to move in some direction. I wish I were more convincing, or braver. I’d favor the latter.

  • conversation/meditation (speaking/thinking, living/writing, experiencing/reading)

I lean heavily toward meditation, thinking, writing, reading. I need to remind myself to open my mouth and be present in the world. That’s really all there is to it.

  • romance/realism (romance/responsibility)

I could be more reckless more often.

  • skepticism/faith

I tend to be skeptical about outcomes. Often, I’m right but not happy to be. I could be more reckless more often.

  • planning/playing (scheduling/spontaneity)

I’ve been pretty good about leaving chunks of my weekends unplanned. It’s weird having to schedule even spontaineity.

  • productivity/staring off into space

These two cycle naturally–first you’re working, then you’re not, and then you have new ideas on which to work, and so on.

  • lists/paragraphs

You tell me how this one’s going.

  • struggle/splendor (endurance/pleasure, seeking/appreciating)

One: I am very, very fortunate that this is even a choice I get to make.

Two: At MIT especially, the motto is, “work hard, play hard.” How much of each is enough, though? The ideal situation is, of course, the one where the work itself becomes pleasure, but often you have to grit your teeth for a long time before you get to that point. So until then, balance.

  • Madonna/Nirvana

Kind of a joke, but my music taste has been all over the place lately! One collaboration I’ve appreciated is Glass Animals x Joey Bada$$ (warning: explicit language, party music).

  • style/substance

Selling yourself/having qualifications. Or: going shopping for clothes instead of reading a book (I am very guilty of this, too often). Or: appearance vs. reality.

  • goal-oriented/process-oriented

As ways of thinking about The College Experience: orienting yourself around career/classes/future or around culture/current fulfillment? Again, not mutually exclusive.

I do think I tend to be too bookish and focused on post-graduation plans, though.

  • buzzwords/normal words

See previous bullet point.

  • career/creativity

Ugh. This is a big one that overlaps with “respect/freedom”, “productivity/staring off into space”, and “planning/playing.” I’ve spent more time on mindless career development than I normally would care to, but I think it’ll be worth it. I’ve compensated for it by reading novels and poetry instead of, you know, serious nonfiction. Or spending Wednesday nights painting. For me, it’s necessary.

  • private/public (space, life, etc.)

This year/blog has been unusual–I used to be very private. Now I am suddenly sharing a lot with strangers on the Internet (hello there. i see you.), and it’s been very rewarding.

  • sarcasm/sweetness

Self-explanatory. I used to be more abrasive but funnier. I think I’m hap

  • impact/fulfillment

Certainly not mutually exclusive. Here, impact = making a lot of money, something I think I could do one day; fulfillment = being an academic, which I think I’d like to do. I don’t know, man. I have more thoughts on this that are incomplete and shouldn’t be on the Internet at this time. And I said I’d try to think less about the future all the time. So.

  • budgets (education/incarceration)

I think I added this bullet point because Bernie Sanders was talking about it and I agreed with him: please, less incarceration, more education.

  • math/real life :’(

The theoretical world is a great source of bliss for me, and I appreciate the distance between my math psets and all things practical. But I feel myself getting more and more absent-minded–I am spending time learning abstract logic rather than facts that lead in any concrete direction. It’s rewarding but not optimal, yet I don’t think I’ve chosen the wrong major. Maybe this is a sign that I should focus more on econ.


I’m not sure what I want anymore (see: the length of this list, the inability to prioritize); maybe I lack principles and am trying to make up for it in efficiency. More concretely, I struggle to choose anything over anything else and am consequently trying to do everything all the time.

I’m not convinced that it’s a strictly bad way to live, though (see: Camus, Notebooks 1935-1951: “Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.”)–especially as a college student, especially at seventeen.

Every choice is a sacrifice. At least I’m using (more or less) all of my energy constructively. I think my life is (more or less) Pareto-optimal; I can’t complain.