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January 27, 2012

Halftime adjustments

Midway through the academic year, take time to evaluate what’s gone right and what still needs work.

Next week is a milestone, of sorts, in our lives. Wednesday, February 1, is the halfway point of the year. Hard as it is to believe, it’s been nearly 129 days since the beginning of Fall Quarter, an academic lifetime and about 60 degrees Fahrenheit ago. And it will be another 129 until that first, magical day of summer break.

It is an ancient and hallowed tradition at the University of Chicago to complain about this time of year. It’s cold. It’s dark. While Fall Quarter comes with the excitement of the new year, and Spring Quarter offers warm days and rising expectations for summer adventures, this funny in-between time has many of us tiring of the bad weather and uncertain about the path ahead.

In fact, the midpoint of the U of C year aligns almost exactly with “Blue Monday,” fêted annually in the press as the most depressing day of the year. Calculated with a formula that includes variables like “time since Christmas,” “time since failing our New Year’s resolutions,” “low motivational levels,” and “debt,” it’s actually pure pseudoscience. Even its creator has admitted it’s meaningless bunk, dreamed up as a way for a travel agency to push tickets to sunnier climes. But doesn’t the perennial willingness of the media to believe it anyway point to the truth of just how bad this time of year can be?

So this is a period made for staying inside. For brooding. For applying for endless numbers of internships and jobs and programs and scholarships. We wake up to slate-gray mornings and work well into freezing nights, and all the while wonder if we’re even on the right track.

But don’t let this time of year own you. Rather, you should be using it to your advantage. These are natural moments of introspection. So slow down. Take a deep breath. Take stock.

You’ve already seen grades from your first quarter. Are you satisfied, or is there room for improvement? Where? Classes are in full swing. Perhaps a change of study habits is in order? Choose a new study spot or a new study partner. Find a better way to keep track of dates and to-dos. Is there something you need help with? Figure out what it is and who or what can assist. Then don’t delay; get what you need and get it now, while there’s still time.

What about your life outside of classes? First, double-check to make sure you have one. Next, figure out if that routine is or isn’t working. Just because RSOs start up in September doesn’t mean they won’t welcome you and your free help with open arms in January. There’ll be events to plan, performances to give, and budgets to fudge all the way until June. So take the plunge. You might even make a few new friends in the process.

But as important as it is to work up the energy to add, it’s even more critical to know when to subtract. You’re an undergrad, not God (sorry, first-year Nietzsche fan boys and Goldman Sachs job offer recipients). Your time and energy, not to mention your enthusiasm, are limited. If you feel like one of your activities is more burdensome than enjoyable, or that it is getting in the way of other commitments, drop it.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the skewed priorities of most U of C students that I’ve mentioned taking care of your academic and extracurricular activities before the most critical area of all: your personal life. A fair amount of stress is normal; constant panic is not. Holding off on going out once in a while might actually be helpful to your mental health; locking yourself in the Reg or your room seven days a week almost certainly isn’t. As much as we pride ourselves on our rigorous academics, remember that there should still be time in your week to be alone with your thoughts or hang out with friends. If that A comes at the cost of 10 weeks of constant mental and emotional anguish, you might want to ask yourself if it’s worth the damage you’re doing to your college experience.

Of course, these are just a few friendly suggestions. Maybe some of them apply to your life, or maybe none of them do. But however things are going, take a second to reassess and, if needed, to reboot. You have the experience of half a year behind you. Use it to shape an even better second act.

David Kaner is a second-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.

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