Habits of Highly Successful Freshmen: Balance

All of the great thinkers in history, from Aristotle to the Dalai Lama, seem to agree on a single point: the key to happiness and success in life is moderation and balance. In general, the advice of the past six columns will promote a happy, healthy and successful college lifestyle. But any of these habits can be balanced out or even cancelled out by various circumstances.

It's good to be sociable, but it's necessary to have some time for yourself. You want to be responsible, but don't want to become a goody-two-shoes. It's good to take risks, but don't let your life become one big risk. You want to be organized, but don't want to become a mechanical robot. It's important to be persistent, but you'll get nowhere if you cling to a pit-bull attitude. It's important to be fully awake, but you can't even do that if you don't get sufficient sleep. Even the word "habit" is a bit presumptuous, suggesting that you internalize certain actions until they become automatic.

Anything you internalize to the extent that you no longer notice it can rob you of control to lead your own life. Something as simple as biting your nails, or as profound as a choice of lifestyle threatens to take us off balance when left unchecked. For example, why are you here? The default answer to that question is academics, and it seems to trump everything else we pursue. We are here to get a degree, and most of us will. But the pursuit of that degree often steals us from the present moment and undercuts other undertakings that could have equal or greater impact on our lives.

In your time here you may meet the love of your life, or the friend who will go with you into retirement. You may join an organization that will equip you with real-world skills beyond a lecture's grasp or a social circle that helps you define who you are beyond your ability to pass tests. Academics are one important reason why we are here. Don't miss the others. As Mark Twain put it, "Never let your schooling interfere with your education."

Within any academic or extra-curricular pursuits, don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Approach your studies with focus and dedication, but partition them with a walk outside, a 20- minute nap, a game of football or your favorite television show. When you return to the library, you'll likely find yourself more focused and more dedicated than you were before. Let your involvement with organizations grow like roots of a tree, fitting into your life naturally. If you force commitment, you're likely to get in your own way and self-destruct.

Take control of your personal evolution. As Plato said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Once you balance everything in your life, you begin to have more time, energy, power and peace of mind to find out why you are really here. There is no single answer. But when you find yours, you'll find yourself waking up excited for each day and everything else harmonizing with that purpose.