This was a summer I don’t want to forget

“You should probably write some of that down” — Erlich Bachman

During the grind of second semester, I told myself repeatedly that summer would be less busy than school. As projects, midterms, and papers drained me, I let my mind wander to my summer internship at Rise, which I was super excited about, and just having free time, which had become such a foreign concept throughout the year. I saw Free Time as the light at the end of the tunnel during finals week.

The mental model I formed of my summer schedule consisted of two blocks of Free Time per day, sandwiched between sleep and Rise. Once summer started, it didn’t take me very long for me to fill those spots in with things I wanted to do. There were the activities I loved in high school that were largely neglected my first year in college; I found a pool and a gym to get back in shape and a place to play piano and remember the joys of classical music. There were the new things I wanted to learn; I wanted to cook for myself and not rely on eating out all the time. There were the commitments I’d made during the school year; I needed to work towards making Cal Hacks 2.0 the best hackathon to date.

Suddenly, I felt like I was as busy as I was during the school year again. Every waking hour was filled with something I committed to doing. There was hardly any I’m-just-going-to-do-nothing time. Weekends initially seemed like a great time for that, but as they approached, they overflowed with plans. The Bay Area always had something to offer, whether it was a hackathon, an art exhibit, or just friends from all over the country claiming their share in the modern day gold rush. My roommate likened weekends to massive hash collisions — every exciting thing to do in the area hashing itself into the very limited buckets of time. It seemed as if this mythical Free Time had eluded me once more.

Then I realized my preconceived notion of what Free Time meant to me was all wrong.

Throughout the past few years, the societal force that pushes us to specialize as we grow up has gradually become more apparent. This phenomenon begets a narrowing of our academic/learning responsibilities as we go through school and eventually enter the workforce. Early in high school, labels started attaching themselves to people (or maybe vice-versa, or some mixture of the two). A certain group of people were the really athletic ones and were naturally given the opportunities to specialize and hopefully become elite athletes. Others were labeled as STEM people and were always expected to take and do really well in all the math and science classes. Others became the humanities people and somehow always finagled words together into the essays that would receive the highest grades. When we apply to college, the force of specialization make us think about our future majors and naturally a vague idea of what we want to do for our careers. Clearly I enjoy programming, and while I’ve let this force carry me when it’s convenient (study computer science and pursue iOS internships), my burning desire is to not pigeonhole myself into just iOS, or even more broadly computer science. As I navigated my busy schedule this summer, I came up with the idea that “free” doesn’t really imply vacancy, the lack of substance, or doing nothing. Instead, the literal interpretation of “free” as a verb (to liberate) fit in much better with what Free Time really means to me. Free Time isn’t time for doing nothing; it’s the time that I get to liberate myself from society’s ever-growing force that pushes us toward specialization as we get older. Even if I probably will work in tech, I want my well-roundedness and curiosity across various fields and disciplines to also provide the joys of life. If I learned one thing about myself this summer, I think this is it.

Thanks to Jonathan Zong, Josh Singer, Catherine Zhang, Abhinav Ranjan, David Bui, Smitha Milli, Rohan Pai, and my family for reading drafts of this :)