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This spring will — as long as nothing goes wrong during finals week — be my first full spring semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It will also be my last.

As I prepare to graduate a year early, I can’t help but look back over how I’ve changed as a student and as a person.

If you knew me in high school, first of all, I’m sorry. Second of all, you would know that I was one of the most high-strung people in the world. It wasn’t that weird in my uber-competitive high school, but my anxious need to “succeed” really impacted my mental health. I was constantly burnt out, crying in class almost every day and had approximately 30 minutes of free time each day, including weekends.

I wasn’t much better my first few semesters of college. In fall of 2019, I got two jobs, joined the club basketball team and did all my readings for class. In spring 2020, when everything shut down, I was doing a lot less, but I was still high-strung. I only missed a couple online classes throughout quarantine, and I never turned in a late assignment.

But at what cost?

I headed into fall of my final year of undergrad with a 4.0 GPA and no friends. Yes, I knew people, but the combination of COVID-19 protocols and my reluctance to focus on anything but school and work made it so that just “hanging out” was on the back burner of my priorities.

I would work on essays and readings while watching Netflix, check my Canvas app while at dinner with my friends — ahem, roommates — and I wouldn’t even consider hanging out on a school night.

There wasn’t exactly one moment where a lightbulb pinged over my head and made me reevaluate my priorities. It was more like a steady march toward becoming a happier and more well-rounded person.

Hanging out at The Daily Nebraskan office in person definitely helped, but I also made an effort to put myself out there, talking to and spending time with coworkers outside of the office. I went to see Yung Gravy for free at the Lied Center for Performing Arts with my friend and her roommate on a random Thursday night, something I never would have considered doing before this semester — both the school night concert and the Yung Gravy of it all.

I always viewed “downtime” as an opportunity to recharge to make yourself more productive in school and work, or do chores that would make you more productive at work, not a time to actually do things that make you happy. But as I started to spend more and more time doing activities I actually enjoyed, I realized a much better way to stay recharged for academic and work activities was to just leave them behind. Instead of putting as much effort into my studies as possible and fitting in my version of rest and relaxation — i.e., naps — around the grind, I made deliberate separations between work, school and fun.

I realize this isn’t possible for everyone, but for me, cutting off my “school” day at 4 p.m., my “work” day at 7 p.m. and not checking Canvas or Slack until the next morning made me exponentially happier. I was more focused and in the moment with the work when I was doing it and also more in the moment with my friends and with myself.

I’ve done a lot in my time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I’m graduating in three years from the Honors program and with distinction from the College of Arts and Sciences, I have a 3.97 GPA — though that might go down a bit after the final grades for this semester roll around — and I’ve contributed a lot to The Daily Nebraskan and Writing Center in the three years I’ve worked at those places. I completed an undergraduate thesis and will be attending the University of Colorado Law School in the fall.

But when I think about my college experience, I don’t think about my projects or my accomplishments. I think about my intramural broomball team scoring exactly one goal throughout the entire season and having an absolute blast, about the dinner parties my friends hosted, the anime and “Game Grumps” series I watched with my best friend and the school night concerts I attended because I now know just how much I can’t take live music for granted.

Of all the things I learned in my three years here, learning how to live in the moment and appreciate where I’m at in my life is undoubtedly the most valuable. I’m just getting used to a healthy work-life balance, and in a few weeks, I’m going to have to start all over again. But I’m not worried. Instead, I’m focusing on enjoying the time I have.

Whether you’re graduating, just starting college or stuck in your sophomore slump, it’s never too late or too early to reevaluate your priorities. Give yourself permission to make time for your friends and for yourself. Your GPA won’t matter in 10 years, but your ability to relax and have fun will matter more than you know.

Sydney Miller is a senior psychology major. Reach them at sydneymiller@dailynebraskan.com