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"Let go of things that won't define you." | A Stanford Alum's Advice on Balancing Life

We had an amazing privilege of interviewing Sruti Sarathy,

  • a violinist, singer, and composer

  • an alum of top private university, Stanford University in California.

We asked advice on: Balancing Life

Here are some notable words she shares:

  • You can always find a way to make your passions work within the structures of your life.

  • "I didn’t set a limit, but I never ended up committing to too many--just the few that I really cared about."

  • "For me, the choices that I’ve made determine my values."

Q: You must have been on a very strict and routine schedule while balancing music and school; how did you manage to balance and give extra time to music with all the commitments you had in life?

A: High school was demanding in terms of scheduling. I think I managed by committing only to a limited number of activities/classes, both in school and outside of it. I had a handful of subjects and extracurriculars that I was interested in, and I focused on those. That means saying no to the things I was not so keen on--including AP or advanced classes in subjects I was less fond of, like physics.

Q: What was a typical day like for you balancing music and school?

A: It’s a little difficult to remember now! I remember I had an early morning PE class, so I would go to school early. Sometimes my day ended early though, so I would walk home and rest a little, then practice. I used to study in the high school library. At home I liked to spend time on music. On days when I didn’t have early morning school, I would sometimes practice in the morning. I tried to practice every day unless school was particularly hectic, like during final exams.

Q: Did you set yourself a limit beforehand on how many clubs/extracurriculars you were going to participate in or did you join as many as you could and drop out of some along the way?

A: I didn’t set a limit, but I never ended up committing to too many--just the few that I really cared about.

Q: Overall, how did you balance extra-curriculars with home, work, and social life?

A: Keeping commitments small in each of those areas--I had a handful of friends, I had music, I had a few subjects like French and math that I was interested in. And I had family activities/cultural activities. I committed to those few people and pursuits, and I didn’t try to do more than those things that I knew I really cared about.

Q: How did you spend your summers meaningfully? Weekends?

A: I spent summers doing more music, and also research projects at the intersection of academics and music. I also used summers to spend time with family and close friends.

Q: Did you have to sacrifice anything (hanging out with friends, going out more, vacations, etc.) to get to a high level in what you are doing?

A: I used to feel that as a younger child--that I had to miss seeing my friends sometimes, etc. I didn’t feel it so much as I got older. Now I feel that maybe focusing so much on one thing means you couldn’t get so deep into something else that was also interesting to you, that would have offered you a different sort of intellectual life--I don’t think about this with regret, it’s more just an observation. It’s true of any life--we make some choices that naturally preclude other possibilities.

Q: You often had to travel back and forth, for violin concerts both in the US and India. How did you manage to handle the stress, performance anxiety, and the schoolwork?

A: The travel was physically stressful at times--especially super short and hectic trips which I sometimes made. I wasn’t always the best at handling the schoolwork--there were many times (more so in college than in high school) when I fell behind and had to catch up later or explain things to a professor. I didn’t always get good grades in college, but I was okay with that. Performance anxiety--I believe this gets better with performing more and more. So the many concerts were helpful in getting me more used to being on stage. Though performance anxiety is still something that creeps up on me from time to time.

Q: What do you think people will inevitably have to prioritize more to pursue their passion?

A: I think you just end up making choices about what things are the most important to you, and you pursue your passion within the constraints of that. You can always find a way to make your passions work within the structures of your life.

For me, the choices that I’ve made determine my values--for example, doing music full-time was more important to me than having a steady income. So I don’t see it as ‘giving up’ a conventional 9-5; in making the choices that I did, I already established that something else was more valuable to me than conventional financial security.

Q: What’s the hardest adjustment you had to make in going into college?

A: Becoming an adult--taking responsibility for my own time, my choices, the direction of my life. For me it was a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood.

Learn more about Sruti at her website!

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