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"Focus. Don't compare your beginning to someone's middle." | A Princeton Alum on Balancing Life

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

We had the opportunity of interviewing RY, an alumni of Princeton University about: Exceptional Programs

In high school, RY was:

  • President of the New Jersey Association of Student councils,

  • President of the Senate of New Jersey State student body,

  • Student body president of her high school student government

  • President of her local FBLA chapter, which expanded to the biggest chapter in South Jersey

  • A nationally-rated fencer at Princeton

In college, RY:

  • Was a nationally-rated fencer at Princeton

  • Studied sociology and entrepreneurship

  • Served as student body president

  • Helped to launch the Company of Female Founders.

Post-graduate, RY:

  • Has contributed to launching the end to end operations of a captive corporate venture capital fund along with the founders of True Platform

  • Works in Strategy under the Office of the CEO for True Platform

  • And is helping to launch our Corporate Social Responsibility and Women's Leadership initiatives

Key points Rachel shares:

  • "Focus on the things that are most important...You don't have to be the "the best" or exceptional in 10 things, that is nearly impossible."

  • "That is a key skill set that, especially when you get into the working world, to learn how to be flexible, and to learn how to pivot quickly and think on your feet. "

  • "I truly think that you can have everything but you can't have all at once."

  • "If you have that core fundamentals of good work ethic and being an authentic and good person, you're going to be successful, no matter where you end up. It's not about your starting point. It's about knowing your end goal, and there are so many ways to get there. So college is not the end all be all."

Q: You’ve definitely had a lot of commitments throughout high school and college. Was there ever a time when you realized you had given yourself too many commitments? If so, how did you determine what to give up?

A: I would say there were two major points in my life, where I knew I was absolutely over-committed. I will start with college. In my first semester, I signed up for 13 different clubs, and I was in a leadership position in a couple of them. I realized that that was far too much. By spreading myself too thin, I was effectively unable to be good in any of them. So what I did was I force ranked them and the bottom half, I just chopped out. And then, I whittled it down. I think a good rule of thumb is that you do need to do things outside of your classes that light your heart on fire and do them really well. That's kind of the rule of thumb that I use for the rest of college. I was like, I get to choose two things that I really like, and everything else is additional.

The other time was actually in high school. My sophomore year, I believe--that's when AP testing was happening, and I was sleeping maybe four hours per night, which is unhealthy as an adult. (Also in college, I aim to sleep almost 7 hours every single night to be healthy and functioning. That was something I prioritized.) But at that point, I was drinking five hour energies and not having energy for school or fencing. I realized that something was very broken. So I scaled back on fencing in my junior year of high school.

Q: How did you manage to sort which extracurriculars were more of a priority, and which required less attention?

A: You can't be great at everything. There may be rare exceptions where you're able to do everything and do it all at once. But when I've read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, her chapter on not being able to have it all with a family and an amazing work life actually applies here. You focus on the things that are most important and everything else you don't have to be great. Like I would say, still try hard, but it doesn't have to take up all of your time. For the other eight slots on your extracurricular section of your common apps, you're filling things you do and you enjoy, and that's fine. You don't have to be the quote-unquote, the best or exceptional in 10 things; that is nearly impossible.

Q: What’s your worth ethic? Are you flexible and spontaneous or do you follow a strict schedule? Are you a multi-tasker or do you stay focused on one thing at a time?

A: In terms of my own working style, I tend to think, by virtue of just my personality, I work better with a strict schedule, but I am learning to be more flexible. That is a key skill set that, especially when you get into the working world, to learn how to be flexible, and to learn how to pivot quickly and think on your feet. That's going to be really helpful.

In terms of being disciplined, I think a good bedrock skill to learn is if you can learn how to be disciplined and follow that schedule, then you'll have that skill, and then you have the freedom to be more flexible. Just the commitment to stick to something I think is really important. There are studies that prove multitasking is not good -- you being distracted means you don't do anything. But I used to multitask a lot in high school which probably meant I was probably less efficient. What I learned in college is the Pomodoro method works pretty well. You just stay super laser focused for a short amount of time, get up, take a break, let your brain refresh, and come back to it. I call them mini sprints because they make you a lot more efficient, a lot more focused, you can get a lot more done, and you're not as distracted trying to do a million things at once. So I would say focus in shorter chunks of time and give yourself breaks. We're all meant to take breaks, and we shouldn't be working for hours on end. So I think that that has worked really well for me.

Q: You mentioned health as a priority, what would you say were your other priorities and how did you choose them? (What have you sacrificed along the way to pursue your passions?)

A: In high school I absolutely sacrificed my social and romantic life, and I don't really think I had a good balance in high school. If I could go back and give myself advice, I would probably have prioritized my friendships a little bit more. That this is something that I care about a lot. In college, mental health was one of the main focuses of my administration's term when I served as student body president. I think that without that bedrock of support from your friends, it is pretty difficult to weather some of the more difficult storms that you're going to inevitably encounter in high school or college. So I would say that investing in a couple friendships that you really care about is something that I wish I had done in high school because I did not prioritize that. And in college, I felt like I had a much better balance. For me, that also meant I had to learn how to say no to things, and that was very difficult.

Q: Whenever you felt like giving up, how did you get yourself motivated again?

A: This is a great question. I think that it's a very timely one. I think one, it's difficult. You have to go back to WHY. I always ask myself, "Why am I doing this? What is the goal? What is the purpose?" , and going back to the basic question of "why am I doing" this helped me through, or at least it has helped me through the most difficult times, because I know that the pain is temporary. But the end goal of being committed to a goal will be worth it once you put in the hard work.

Q: how do you balance everything in your life: health, hobbies, passions, work, etc.?

A: I truly think that you can have everything but you can't have all at once. I think that you know, there are, I like to think about life in seasons, I think that there are certain seasons where you have to be super focused. And maybe in high school, it was the right choice to be super focused on my extracurriculars and school. Then when I got to college, I had to be a little bit more focused and intentional about my friendships, and I took a gap year after my freshman year to focus on my family. So learning when to focus on what I think is going to be the most important part of balancing because all of these parts of your life are really important. I don't think that you should neglect any of them. But there are going to be certain times where one of these things or two of these things are going to take first priority.

Q: What are some final words of advice you have or anything you wish someone had told you when you were going through this process?

A: I would say the main piece of advice that I wish I had been told was that although this can be a very stressful process, everyone is going through this together, so learn to lean on each other. Just don't put too much pressure on yourselves. Your worth is not defined by what school you're going to. If you look at the career path of people that you aspire to be like, you can start anywhere. I think that if you have that core fundamentals of good work ethic and being an authentic, good person, you're going to be successful, no matter where you end up. It's not about your starting point, it's about knowing your end goal, and there are so many ways to get there. So, really, college is not the end all be all.

This interview originally took place in an audio format. However, we have converted it to text to avoid sound quality issues. To ensure coherency, we have slightly modified the wording.

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