Jerry is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh studying History. Following graduation, he will participate in a service year. After that, he hopes to work on political campaigns before attending law school. He’d like to pay his way through this world by working in politics. Originally from a town about 20 miles west of Philadelphia, he is a big fan of the Eagles and the Flyers.
When New Year’s comes around, my resolution isn’t to start something new. Instead, I continue a habit I picked up the previous year that has been changed my life for the better. Last year, my resolution was to keep reading for pleasure; this year, it will be to keep writing about memorable experiences. As I am interested in politics and the law, being a close reader and a strong writer are undoubtedly skills that will come in useful. But reading and writing also helped me with my relationships with others, improving my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings and making me a more active listener. I can’t speak for everyone, but these two habits have helped me learn a little about myself while in college.
I should clarify that, when I mean reading, I mean sitting down with a book for 45 minutes to an hour every day—for leisure. When I started college, this was the last thing I wanted to do when I got back from the library at night. I’d much rather pop on an episode of Parks and Rec and shut down my brain for a while. But last fall, someone suggested I read Slaughterhouse Five, and I said, why the hell not? I hadn’t read a book in awhile, and I figured I had nothing to lose by reading a classic American novel. After all, if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to keep reading it.
I tore through it. When I returned the book, raving about it all the while, he suggested I try reading 1984. I ripped through that one, too. I’ve been reading consistently since. I stuck with fiction for a while, and then started moving to biographies and history. I started reading magazine articles when I had downtime during the day. At this point, my hour of reading each night has become as much a part of my routine as my morning run. I can skip it, but I’d really rather not.
But how did this habit make my college life any easier? For one thing, it made the reading I have to do for school all the less daunting. I read faster and absorbed more. I am also more willing to learn, too. All the different experiences and perspectives I encountered in the books I read fostered my curiosity. I became more eager to learn about economics, public speaking, and other subjects I had no interest in before. And it made me a better listener. Reading taught me the value of exchanging ideas, so I became more engaging in class and in conversation. Keeping my mind active by reading at night makes me sharper during the day.
I especially enjoy reading biographies of people who took the same path—that of politics and law—which I am interested in. As I read more about these figures, I noticed they all wrote. They wrote letters, kept journals, wrote newspaper articles, even novels and poetry. They could articulate their ideas clearly and powerfully. I realized it was important that I find my voice, too. I’m pretty good at writing academic papers, but when it came to writing about myself, I had trouble. The personal reflections I had to fill out when applying to various programs for after I graduate reminded me of my inscriptive shortcomings. For whatever reason, it was difficult to express myself. So, I took a page out of the late Senator Pat Moynihan’s book; I just started writing about stuff that happened to me.
I don’t write every day, only when I consider an experience or a conversation important.. The first few instances I wrote about weren’t particularly reflective. Rather, I just recounted what had happened, filling it in with important details—who I met, what was said, how I participated, and so forth. But as I grew more comfortable writing about myself, I began to underscore the importance of these events with my own thoughts and feelings.
All this writing gave me the ability to articulate my ideas with clarity and force. I have more confidence in my ability to argue, and I engage with people more often when I disagree with them. In school, too, I speak up more in class and my work has improved. My papers became livelier, and they turned out to be more persuasive than the dry, droll material I’d been turning in before. Writing taught me how to express myself in a meaningful way.
I share my experience with reading and writing to demonstrate how picking these up as hobbies changed my life in college for the better. Though both seemed a chore at first, I started to look forward to reading books and writing about my day. My outlook, my studying, and my relationships all changed for the better, and it only took little more than an hour a day. I’d recommend everyone give it a try.