Is family life the true price of higher education?

WAKE-UP CALL – The ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge's partner Marley pays a late night visit to Scrooge. He warns Scrooge to change his lifestyle before he loses all of his loved ones. 

One of my worst fears as a young child was becoming a workaholic. I had seen “A Christmas Carol,” and I was terrified of falling into the same mindset that had ensnared Scrooge. Anyone who is familiar with the story knows that Scrooge did not begin his life with his infamous crusty heart; he became bitter only when he began to believe the misconception that hard work and earning a living were of greater importance than family and friends. In the end, Scrooge finally realized how important the people around him were, but he had already lost so much precious time and countless loved ones. As a child, I found it hard to believe anyone could fall prey to the Scrooge mindset. As a college student, I am trapped in a nightmare in which I cannot save myself from the same fate.

College changes a person. I began two years ago with a steadfast exercise routine and fairly healthy diet. I could not keep up with these beatific standards for even two months into my first semester, but I learned to adjust and make compromises. The same concept applied for my time spent with family and friends. Schoolwork came before fun outings on the weekends, and my family understood that.

But as any busy college student can tell you, soon enough part-time jobs, lengthy papers and group projects devoured those leisurely weekends. You find yourself committed to more than you think you can handle, but somehow you are surviving. Like some microscopic bacteria, you are thriving in an extreme environment. Isn’t this the true purpose of college? We are told that we need to broaden our horizons, so we test our endurance and push our limits. This is what will prepare us for our future careers.

But there is a price for survival in this fast-paced world. We sacrifice not just our free time but also our childhood innocence. Maybe some can revert back to their younger, less responsible selves when they reconnect with their family. I think I’ve lost the ability. Every semester chisels out some new angle to my personality, and I can hardly recognize myself as the naive teenager who began as a pre-vet major. My family is changing, and I seem to be growing in an opposite direction. There is no feeling as lonely as the realization that you have become a stranger to your own family.

My mind reverts back to Scrooge. I realize with shame that he would have done exactly as I have. He would approve of sneaking away to some isolated pigeonhole and avoiding family in order to work ahead for the week. He would compromise time with his loved ones in order to further his career by taking on extra responsibilities. He would choose to sacrifice more than he can make up time for, just to reach his own selfish goals.

Yet, isn’t this self-sufficiency what our parents wish for us? They raised us to be strong, innovative and independent. How can we learn independence if we don’t first reject the safety of dependence? Growing pains, my mom calls them. They’re necessary, but they hurt like hell. Of course, she wouldn’t want me to use colorful language. Sorry, mom.

I know a lot of students who somehow have the ability to balance school, work and family. They are human powerhouses, and I would love to bottle up their essence of awesome and use it as a perfume. But that just wouldn’t be feasible, or sanitary, so I will have to come up with my own solution.

We have all heard that college is the time of your life when you develop habits that will stick with you forever. This might be bad news for me, considering my erratic eating habits and lazy exercise routine. It also poses risks for my future family life. Am I setting myself up for future heartbreak by chasing ambition instead of family ties?

Scrooge’s story ends well. He wakes up with a new appreciation for the world around him. He saves Tiny Tim’s life just by being a part of it. He is graciously forgiven and accepted back into a family. But he has already lost the love of his life and countless friends along the way. I don’t want to wake up one day and find that I’ve lost more time than I can make up.