Using Existentialism To Manage Free Time


The French existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre, once said, “Man is condemned to be free; because once he is thrown into this world, he is responsible for everything he does.” This is certainly true in college; students are given the sage advice that for every hour of class time, they are expected to perform two hours of homework time. Unlike in high school, this free time is lengthy and not necessarily scheduled at the end of the day. Effectively, you have over twelve hours of awake-time to time manage. 

A solution to this conundrum of personal responsibility is to schedule activities into your day. Activities can be fun, such as time socializing and participating in student clubs, or productive, such as attending classes and contributing to homework. In either use of the time, one thing is certain: it is necessary to have designated homework hours. As Mr. O’Neill,  the English teacher from the television show, Daria, told its protagonist in season 2, episode 13, “Sometimes, boundaries can paradoxically provide us with freedom.” Once homework is done, you can enjoy leisure time and serendipitous activities more easily. 

No matter how you schedule your freetime, it is always necessary to have designated homework hours. Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

By all means, this doesn’t necessitate replicating the high school schedule of yesteryear. If you are most productive at night, you can do your homework at 10 pm and not start classes until half-past noon. Sartre knew it is up to you, the student, not your parents nor your professors, to ascertain the structure, or lack thereof, of your schedule. The quote continues, “It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.” With a surplus of free time, it appears that anything is possible, leaving it to you to determine which unlimited amount of activities you will participate in to bring you happiness. This deemphasizes the responsibility of external forces, albeit your parents or UConn, to provide meaning to your schedule.

I tell you this cautionary tale to help you, dear freshman, so you don’t struggle as I did: my freshman year of college, I would stay up past 4 am, watching philosophy videos on YouTube, before waking up for early morning classes. This resulted in massive anxiety. The Danish existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard, saw the danger in my newfound free time. In one of his books, he proclaimed, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” It is important to schedule your time, to reduce anxiety. Had I known this when granted so much freedom, freshman year, I would have been as productive and relaxed as I am, now.

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.

Danish existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard

Mr. O’Neill saw parameters in a different way than Sartre did. Freedom didn’t need to be limited by the modifier of personal meaning, but meaning needed to be limited by freedom. After all, his initial advice to Daria was in reference to her struggling with an assignment for class. She was still in high school, so having a teacher limit what was permissible helped her. Now, the teenagers who grew up on the beloved sitcom of the 90s are vastly more independent, so it is up to them to limit their schedules. The same applies to you, an incoming freshman, who is thrust into this new, unpredictable world of extended, unstructured time. 

Kierkegaard saw freedom as a terror that needed to be dealt with through various coping skills, such as faith. Faith in your planning and scheduling abilities will enable you to experience the greatest happiness you ever could, as a freshman. You will be extremely successful, socially, emotionally, and academically. This is not contradictory to Sartre’s notion of freedom, that to determine the meaning of your schedule, you must accept the responsibility that comes with being an adult. Like Kierkegaard, Mr. O’Neill saw freedom as something potentially fearfully intimidating, but he sought to find boundaries to freedom. Kierkegaard’s idea of a boundary might be religion, while Mr. O’Neill’s could be something as simple as establishing a writing regimen, and Sartre’s could be to add meaning to your schedule. I have faith in you, freshman. Good luck. 

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