It is, by now, a cliche to say that it’s difficult to believe how far I’ve come since filling out my Penn Application. But it’s true -- December of 2016 feels like just a few months ago, despite how radically changed my life is because of my time at Penn. I am now a second-semester Junior, and all of the traditions and expectations I always affiliated with upperclassmen -- including Hey Day, job and grad school applications, and even academic milestones like beginning the process of senior thesis writing -- are swiftly approaching. It’s easy to let these moments fly by -- everyday life at Penn is so full of academic work, extra-curricular activities and time spent with friends that setting aside time for reflection can be difficult.
Over winter break, though, I thought a lot about whether I’ve made the most of my years here at Penn, and how best to use my last three semesters here. Certainly, there are academic and extracurricular opportunities that I’ve missed out on over the past 2.5 years -- mostly because of my own unwillingness to step outside my comfort zone, or because I felt sufficiently occupied with the activities and academic work already on my plate. If I think too much about these missed opportunities I tend to feel a kind of “fomo” (or “fear of missing out.”) I worry that in later life I’ll look back on my undergrad years and wish that I had, say, joined a theater society or taken more language classes. But, deep down, I know that I should be proud of myself for the range of things I’ve managed to be involved with at Penn; I’ve held executive committee roles in clubs, done research in a range of areas and maintained lots of wonderful friendships all while holding two work-study jobs.
In an environment like Penn, where everyone is incredibly busy with a diverse range of important, innovative work and extracurricular activities, it’s always possible to feel like you’re missing out on something amazing. This is part of the beauty of this place -- the opportunities before us are nearly endless, but we don’t have infinite time and energy, so selecting the ones that mean the most to us is crucial. At the start of my junior year, I picked up a second major (history!) which I felt would enrich my academic studies beyond the courses available to me in my Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) major. I’m so happy that I did -- my history courses this past year have reshaped my perspective on so many world issues. Yet, I also know that my Penn years would have been just as full of life-altering experiences and if I had “missed out” on adding a second major.
The ever-present, distinctively Penn “fear of missing out” can be an amazing motivator -- pushing you to take academic risks and allowing you to overcome a fear of failure (without which, research and innovation could never truly happen.) But it’s equally important to recognize that it’s impossible to have a perfect Penn experience, and, because we all share in each other’s ideas, passions and achievements, we’re never truly missing out on anything.