One of the most transformative lessons I’ve learned during my four years at Penn is becoming comfortable with letting go of opportunities that no longer feel authentic to me.
College is a unique time to let go of opportunities because we have so many choices of how we can spend our time, whether it be our friends, classes, or clubs. Becoming comfortable with change is something that I’ve had to learn in multiple contexts: my academics, my extracurricular life, and my short–lived summer 2021 internship.
For academics, I’ve changed at least one class in my schedule every semester I’ve been at Penn.
In spring 2021, I was enrolled in a psychology class on memory. I went to the first virtual class, tried a homework assignment, and quickly realized that this class was not a good fit. I promptly transferred to a class on the American presidency, which felt more authentic to my interests.
Conversely, I failed to let go of the infamous introductory astronomy class: "Survey of the Universe." When I enrolled in the class, I thought I would become interested in the final frontier of outer space. Yet, the class would not be what I had hoped for. It was very math–heavy, full of equations and abstract physics. A few classes in, my eyes drooped and stung as I anguished over how to solve the escape velocity from the surface of Mars.
It felt like a difficult decision to let go of this class when I accounted for what I would lose. I was attached to my supportive professor and my reliable study partner. I did not want to let them down, and astronomy fulfilled the Formal Reasoning requirement I needed to graduate, so I decided to stay.
In short, I fell for the sunk cost fallacy, which is when we continue to invest our time and energy into something because of all the time we have already invested in it. Clubs are a great application of the sunk cost fallacy because of how much time we invest in clubs at Penn, especially in leadership positions.
For extracurricular activities, I’ve had to let go of numerous clubs over the past few years, including now deactivated clubs that I’d helped found: a playwriting club called Penn Playwrights and a hazing prevention awareness club called Beyond Hazing.
Penn Playwrights was a nice way to meet fellow writers, yet I realized that playwriting was no longer the writing style that invigorated me.
For Beyond Hazing, I am grateful to my fellow board members for taking a chance on my vision to inform fellow Penn students about the hazing spectrum and how to report hazing. I let go of Beyond Hazing because I wanted to have more time for classes, friends, and figuring out post–grad plans during my final semester at Penn.
Someone may resist my recommendation to let go of unauthentic opportunities and argue that they don’t want to be seen as a “quitter.” I’ve certainly struggled with that thought.
Rather than ruminate about quitting, I consider myself as someone who knows when to let things go for my mental health and my personal growth.
The biggest dilemma I’ve faced was letting go of theater this semester, a passion I’ve had for nine years. I used to love the process of rehearsing and performing in plays and musicals. However, the COVID–19 pandemic changed my relationship with theater.
As the chair of Stimulus Children’s Theater Company from April 2020 to May 2021, I encountered numerous setbacks, such as pivoting our hybrid fall 2020 musical to a virtual play when classes went fully online. I sensed my morale languishing and my resentment toward virtual theater growing.
Instead of moping around, I decided to do something authentic to myself. With my new interest in COVID–19 historical preservation, I hosted a podcast season with Platt Student Performing Arts House called Performing Arts in the Pandemic to record the stories of Penn student–artists and administrators. As the trees bloomed in spring 2021, my artistic passion was revived by this new project.
While I feel like I am losing a part of my identity by letting go of performing, I try to reframe it as growth. I am becoming someone new, which is exciting.
One of my budding interests was constitutional law, which made me excited about my summer internship. In May 2021, I was beginning a remote summer internship with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division.
The internship’s description sounded impactful: Help with investigations involving alleged civil rights violations. Yet, I soon learned that I would be taking phone calls and following up on people’s complaints, which did not sound appealing to me.
My intuition led me to pursue creative writing instead. Consequently, I resigned from my internship in the first week, and I started writing as an opinion columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian. I am grateful that writing columns has become an authentic outlet for me to share stories with the Penn community.
I encourage you to become more comfortable letting go of anything that is weighing you down in life. Consider this: If the thought of letting go of an opportunity gives you a feeling of relief, it might be worth releasing it from your grasp.
However uncomfortable it may be to let go of things in the short term, your long–term self will thank you for putting yourself first.