Many of my Wharton peers came back from break with heroic stories of scaled peaks, treacherous waters, and explorations of countries across all four corners of the earth. I came back with suburban stories; sitting in L.A. traffic jams, catching basketball games at the neighborhood park, watching “Rachel Maddow” with my left-leaning mom. And I had an absolute blast.
I spent all four weeks of my winter break back in my hometown of Cerritos, California, a simple uppermiddle class neighborhood in L.A. County known for its excellent school district, numerous parks, and perhaps the best city public library in the country.
Much of my decision to go home was based on an experience I had this past November when I was back home for a childhood friend’s wedding. I realized then that I had done a horrible job maintaining relationships with good friends and family since I came to business school. Right then and there I decided that I would spend my winter break back home, rediscovering old friendships, my relationship with my parents, and even myself.
In the beginning, it was incredibly hard. I tried my best not to go on Facebook and look at the countless pictures of my classmates and their exploits, especially as I was figuring out how to use my time.
Where were the homies to go to bars with? Turns out they were either away on business or getting excited about licking the cupcake batter off the spoon during “bake night” with their girlfriends/wives. My close girlfriends? Two of them were in their third trimester, and the only thing that was on their mind were baby names. Even my stoner, degenerate friends that still lived at home had found jobs at the local carwash and liquor stores.
Everything seemed to have dramatically changed in the year and a half I’d been away at Wharton.
So I started spending a lot of my time by myself, whether it was going to the park and reading a book, or taking my mountain bike on the local trail. I also started eating healthier and not drinking. I came to realize a clarity I had not felt in ages, a clarity that is often clouded at Wharton with the barrage of social commitments, excessive drinking, and minimal sleep that we have all become accustomed and immune to.
Feelings of nostalgia came to define much of my experience. I can say with almost full confidence that there is absolutely nothing in the world like driving down the Five Freeway blasting Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” on KROQ 106.7, my favorite radio station growing up. Likewise, there’s nothing quite like eating the coronary-clogging carne asada fries at Albert Taco’s at 1 AM or sleeping in my high school bed – still the best sleep I’ve ever had.
As much as I enjoyed hanging out by myself, I reveled in the time I got to spend with my parents. Living at your childhood home for an extended period of time as a 30-year-old is an interesting feeling. The setting made it easy for me to juxtapose the relationship I have with my parents now with the one I had with them so long ago. My parents, once authoritarian figures pushing for high grades and even higher test scores, are now gentler advisors. They get so much joy out of even our simplest interactions. I enjoyed our evening walks and even their playful exasperation with my conservative political views. As each of us gets older, these opportunities present themselves with less and less frequency.
When people ask me what I did during break, I find it incredibly difficult to translate just how enriching my experience was. It resembles nothing remotely exciting, and yet somehow ranks as one of my favorite school breaks in recent memory. Somehow in the midst of the craziness of business school, we forget to spend time with ourselves and the people that matter. Those four weeks helped me remember this, and just as importantly, the beauty in simplicity.