Make the most of your time at CMU with passion, drive, and friendship

Credit: Louise Zhou/ Credit: Louise Zhou/
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“You have to choose” is a myth that well-meaning people tell us throughout our lives. Choose a major, choose a career, choose a goal. “Because you can’t do it all,” they say. I’m here to tell you that you can. But I’m also here to tell you that you don’t have to.

Carnegie Mellon can be a hard place sometimes, especially at first. You’re not the smartest kid in the room anymore, and that can be shocking — it was for me. I spent a lot of my first semester lying in bed watching How I Met Your Mother because I didn’t think I was good enough to do anything here.

What I learned, though, is that everyone at Carnegie Mellon is here because they’re passionate — about learning, about the world, about their chosen field of study and often many fields outside it — and that if you can stand out at this school, you can stand out anywhere. Here’s how.

First of all, get up. Get out of bed. You are made up of the universe, so you can do this. I know that it’s warm in your bed, but do you know what’s warmer? That classroom that never turns down the heat, that’s what — and hey, you might get bonus points for being in class!

As much as you’d like to believe otherwise, it’s impossible to do 10 hours of work in three hours. Pace yourself with five-minute breaks every hour or so. Even if you just spend them groaning loudly at your books or looking longingly at your bed, those five minutes are integral to getting back on track and finishing the work you have to do.

Take time away from drowning in work to be around people you like. It’s worth it to spend an hour or two just talking with someone, whether they’re an old friend or a new friend or a stranger at the coffee shop that randomly makes conversation with you. Even if you have work due later that night, you’ll like yourself more when you get around to it.

Feel free to whine about how much you have to do. Whine to everyone. Whine to your mother, your roommate, your friend, that random person serving you coffee, yourself, I don’t care — just do it and do it often. Not only is whining stress-relieving, but it can also help you to formulate a good mental checklist of what and how much you have to do; it’s a great way to get yourself in gear.

Blocking yourself off Tumblr or Facebook or your chosen Internet poison is not actually as effective as it sounds, because you’ll inevitably end up back on there. You’ll end up back there a lot. You will always find distractions. The key is to put the phone down, click out of the tab, or at the very least give yourself a deadline of how long you can take a break, and then stick to it. You don’t want to be that person stuck in the library at three in the morning finishing a paper you could have had done by midnight if you hadn’t been scrolling through Reddit instead.

If you drink coffee or tea, make friends with the baristas at the coffeeshops on campus. They’ll always make your coffee just right and sometimes write cute messages on your cup, which is a great pick-me-up if you’re having a bad day.

Work in groups. I can’t stress this one enough. Not only will you actually work because people will hold you accountable, but you’ll also improve your understanding of the coursework when you have to explain things to others and you can get things explained to you.

Make friends with your professors and talk to them about your life. They actually care, I promise. During the last week of classes, ask them all the questions you ever wanted to ask, even ones as personal as “Why are you a Republican?” You’ll get interesting answers.

Take time to help other people with their homework, even if you’re done with it and you have 10 million other things you need to be doing. Trust me, eventually you will need help on the homework and they will have 10 million things they need to be doing — they’ll stay to help you.

If you need a day to lay in bed and do nothing, and you will absolutely need those days, take some time off. But just a day — okay, maybe two days.

Keep your surroundings clean. You’ll be more motivated to do things when you don’t have to look piles of papers, laundry, or dirty dishes.

Go out and see the city. Pittsburgh is a wonderful place to live, and there are amazing things happening right off campus. Even if it’s just to go to half-price in Oakland, get out of the Carnegie Mellon bubble.

You’ll hear a lot about “stress culture” here: the idea that if you’re not doing more than everyone else around you, you’re not doing enough. It’s a real thing, and it’s perpetuated a lot — don’t fall victim to it.

Find something that you love doing here; if you want, find multiple things! Even though you can do it all and you don’t have to choose one thing over another, don’t feel that you need to do more if it’s negatively affecting your physical or mental health.

Most of all, remember that you are doing enough. Remember that you are enough.