As I come to the final weeks of my first year at Brown, I am struck by how fast the semesters flew by. It feels like yesterday my parents were frantically moving me into my dorm and I was nervously trying to meet people during orientation. After going through the arduous application process, this first year of college may have been one of the most anticipated phases of my life. And now, just like that, it’s over.
One-fourth of my college memories have already been created — and many of them are of hours spent working in the library. It’s unnerving to think that I might be passively spectating as this precious and scarce time escapes my grip.
As fast as this year has gone by, however, it does not feel uniquely quick. Birthdays and holidays seem to come around faster every year. Even globally, it has already been three years since the COVID-19 pandemic first started and over a year since Russia invaded Ukraine. I often find myself wondering, “Was that already a year ago?” And, my question, it turns out, is actually quite normal.
Psychologists claim that the older we get, the faster time flies. This is because our brains are wired to detect change. Our retrospective outlook on time is determined by the number of new memories we have generated over a certain period. Unlike children, who are constantly absorbing new information and having novel experiences, the life of an adult — full of work and chores — is more routine, which means that days and weeks blur together. As such, time is perceived to pass faster.
If you are anything like me, this can feel deeply unsettling.
It seems like our lives are something of a paradox. On the one hand, we are here for a very limited amount of time. It should behoove us to live a carefree life, absent of stress and immersed in passion, adventure and spontaneity. Yet, for many of us, in order to afford ourselves time for leisure and enjoyment, our competitive capitalist society demands that we dedicate much of our life to unfulfilling careers. The way I see it, our need for financial stability and our desire to make the most of our finite time on earth are two conflicting forces that define the dichotomy of our adult lives.
However, even as I wish my first year hadn’t passed me by so suddenly, the combination of work and leisure is what made this time feel rewarding in the first place. By allowing this tension into our lives instead of resisting it, we can accept it as an essential feature of the human experience. Without the pressure to be financially stable, I fear we may lose much of the incentive to achieve. If society provided for all of our needs, what goals would we still be motivated to accomplish? Understanding this paradox allows us to manage this tension and gives us the agency to dance between both worlds — work and freedom.
Although some experts claim that by actively seeking out new experiences and environments, pursuing new connections and learning new skills time can be slowed down, these lifestyle changes only affect our perception of time. Inevitably, time still passes us by, often more quickly than we’d like because of the monotony of adulthood. Rather than focusing on falsely comforting ourselves, we should reflect on our relationship with time and learn how to confront its inescapable truths. Much of our lives may be spent idling in our routines, but by recognizing them as necessary counterparts to moments of leisure, they too can be romanticized and celebrated.
The clock is always ticking, and moments will continue to pass by, but if we can ground ourselves in gratitude, we can dissolve the unsettling associations we have with time’s passage. While we may feel that we are wasting time in our work-focused days, the interplay between work and freedom is what ultimately gives our lives purpose and direction. Working hard is difficult and stressful, yet it is by feeling that pressure that we can unlock life’s beautiful pleasures.
Yael Wellisch ’26 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.