The ice-cream-for-breakfast principle

Finding a balance between delayed and immediate rewards

As a young child, one of the main principles I learned was to always save dessert for last. This began as a sort of mandate from my mom to ensure I did not skip over my vegetables in anticipation of the delicious chocolate to come. But as I grew old enough to decide the order of my meals for myself, this process stuck with me. After all, it is just so much better to be left with a sweet aftertaste in your mouth.

I hold this principle to be true in many areas of life. You can’t skip over the pains and joys of everyday life to move straight to the excitement. You have to appreciate the journey you take to get to the finished product, because in the end, the result tastes so much sweeter knowing you worked toward it.

At the same time, there are certain times when it is important to seize the dessert while you have it. Ice cream can melt. Warm, soft cookies can cool down and harden. Sometimes, if you wait too long to appreciate what is right in front of you, an opportunity can slip away, and you will never quite be able to recreate it. You can wait for a while and try to act at the last moment before the ice cream begins to drip, but you will most likely end up wishing you had eaten it a minute earlier.

It can be difficult to find the balance between these two conflicting paradigms. As college students, we frequently have to weigh how our decisions will affect us in both the short and long term. We are at the prime of our youth, surrounded by exciting opportunities on a daily basis — yet by the save-dessert-for-last principle, the logic would be to spend all of our time studying and building our résumés, because that would pay off in the end.

My question is this: at what point do we decide to give in to our desire to enjoy ourselves in the present moment? After all, we are only here for four years, and, like ice cream that is melting away, our time is ticking.

I am not a reckless person by any means, and I am not advocating for the abandonment of all hard work and planning. But during the recent CAValanche, I joined many others in sledding down the steps of the Rotunda on cookie sheets, observing vicious snowball fights in Mad Bowl and watching movies on my couch. What I didn’t do during those snow days is study for my economics test or perfect my media studies paper, which was due when classes resumed. While I felt a twinge of remorse when once again confronted with the piles of work I avoided, I wouldn’t change the way I filled those days.

Maybe sometimes it is okay to have dessert first. After all — there is a National Ice Cream for Breakfast day. Maybe we all need an occasional reminder it can sometimes be important to seize opportunities before they melt away.

During our time as college students, we need to take advantage of fleeting opportunities while maintaining the promise of future ones. Though I believe the satisfaction we will receive upon graduating from Mr. Jefferson’s University will be sweeter than any piece of Dove chocolate, I also believe the opportunities we are presented with before we reach that moment cannot be overlooked. So carpe diem — and more importantly, don’t let the ice cream melt.

Kelly’s column runs biweekly on Tuesdays. She can be reached at

Published February 24, 2014 in Life

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