Off the Campus

Recent grads look at life outside Princeton's gates...

  • Featured column: "Free Time: A Mental Quandary", by Denise M. Ryan '97

    Free Time: A Mental Quandary, by Denise M. Ryan '97

    I can't exactly recall when I first encountered this problem, but it was definitely way before my first new years as an alum. When I first got out of school, I did the whole Princeton-in-Asia thing, which kept me running around like a crazy person all summer. I had to visit friends, visit mom, visit dad, sell my car, buy a plane ticket, get a visa. There was no time to really stop and think. Maybe I started to notice this problem a little bit while I was in Asia, but I guess it didn't become a full-blown quandary until I was employed in the U.S. sometime in early December.

    Only a few short months after receiving my lovely Princeton degree, I realized a very bizarre thing: I didn't know how to spend my free time. I didn't know what to do with myself during the evenings and on weekends. Yes, it's strange, but "honest to God" true. I was in a mental quandary over how to spend my plentiful moments of unaccounted-for time. Now I have had free time before -- during summers, holiday breaks, after my thesis was in -- but this was different.

    Now there was a ton of it. Evenings weren't clogged with studying or sports or delivering Tiger Food. And my weekends weren't full of studying or sports or delivering Tiger Food. And without the craziness of campus life to keep me occupied, I honestly didn't know what to do with myself.

    Most of the people I knew from school were either over seas or participating in College Part II (aka the "I am a management consultant and I live in a really nice apartment building with other people my age" venture). And I was stuck in suburbia hell. I have never been so intensely bored. Coming home from a day of work was dreadful. What do I do now? The obvious solution was the TV. But after four years of Princeton, I was completely out of the loop. Is Family Ties still on? Next...

    Ah yes, I am educated individual, I could read. So I read. I read a lot. But then the wind in my sails of inspiration kind of died. There was no one to discuss these books with me. No one to have sophisticated, intellectual discourse with me. So once again, I was back to square one.

    I needed brain candy, and I needed it fast. So I thought for a while and realized how stupid I had been. I spent my four years at Princeton wishing I had time to get out there and do cool stuff. Life was now waiting at my doorstep -- and I forgot to open the door.

    I picked up my camera and starting shooting photos. It was something I had always wanted to do, but I never bothered to make the time. I entered a local photo contest and won an honorable mention. It was one of the greatest achievements of my life. By that point I was unstoppable. I was taking night classes in yoga, pottery, EMT, you name it. I got out there and got involved. And of course, I also went back to my roots and started playing ultimate frisbee again, after a one-year hiatus.

    So now I am happy. I feel like I have not only dissolved my mental quandary but have also been able to learn and do so many of the things that I have always wanted to do -- but never made the time for. I have also found that my priorities have shifted. I enjoy the simple things in life more than ever before. I take pride in my photographs. I can find beauty almost anywhere. Life's not about getting good grades or being a student leader on campus anymore, it's about taking the time to find what makes you happy and getting out there and doing it.

    Denise is presently on a quest to find a job that will make her happy and support her free-spirited adventures.