Camp Stanford: State of Nature

If you’ve seen the movie Office Space, you’ll remember this scene.

The main character, Peter Gibbons, has found himself at a crossroads. He has realized, far too late in life, that he hates his work. He struggles to explain this to his coworkers.

“Our high school guidance counselor,” Peter tries telling them, “used to ask us what you’d do if you had a million dollars and you didn’t have to work. And invariably what you’d say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars, then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.”

He never had an answer, he tells his friends; it’s how he got stuck in a cubicle. But now he knows: “I would relax. I would sit on my ass all day. I would do nothing.”

These lines, quirky and poignant, have always stayed with me.

The truth is, I’ve been going non-stop for as long as I can remember. Over the years, free time – my time to do nothing, to relax – started to slip away from me, so slowly I didn’t even notice.

It’s a story Stanford students know all too well: afternoons spent running around the neighborhood give way to varsity sports practices. Summer internships replace summer camp, and reading for fun becomes reading for school.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had nothing to do, but all of a sudden, I have free time again: I’m at Camp Stanford, true Camp Stanford, with no classes or thesis or research units. I may still have a few obligations, but the days are basically all mine.

In most students’ minds, the phrase “Camp Stanford” conjures collegiate paradise – an endless string of sunny afternoons at Wilbur Field: Bikinis. Kegs. Frisbees.

The reality is both better and worse – worse because there are too many rainy days and Monday nights, hours when there’s nothing to do and all your friends need to work. But it is these hours that, cheesy as it sounds, are forcing me to learn what no class at Stanford has ever taught me:

What would I do, if I could do anything?

The answers have surprised me. It turns out, for example, that I like the outdoors: sitting outside – even at night, when I have to bundle up – is better than any movie you can rent from Green.

Stranger still, I’m learning the value of being healthy. In past quarters, I wouldn’t have been caught dead at the gym, and my diet consisted of the fast food trifecta: Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, and Lag Late Nite. These days, I try to start every day with a swim at Avery. I even enjoy the occasional leafy green vegetable.

Subtract the pressures of twenty units and the search for happiness, it seems, becomes more complicated than partying and sleeping in: What makes us happy, besides success?

Like most Stanford students, I’d never had to ask myself that question – let alone had the time to find the answer. Now, I’m trying to internalize these answers before the real world swallows me whole.

Our generation has been encouraged by our parents, by colleges – even graduate schools – to take time off. Most of us never did and never will. Gap years can be valuable, of course, but the problem with them is that you can’t do nothing. Because you’re supposed to travel or work (or something else you can put on a resume), you can’t – as Peter Gibbons so delicately puts it – “sit on [your] ass all day.”

But Camp Stanford is different.

For underclassmen, then, this is the best advice – and the best parting wisdom – I can offer. Keep an eye on your units and your GERs, and plan ahead. Meet the new requirements for a Camp Stanford: have a thesis to finish, or a leftover incomplete (Take an incomplete in a class, even if you don’t need it; it won’t kill you).

And then – well, just sit around and do nothing.

*Marissa Miller has served as Vice President of Chi Omega sorority and held various positions at The Stanford Daily, including Features Editor and Director of Staff Recruitment. *

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