By Nicole Prince// Staff Writer
I’m still receiving follow-up emails from the involvement fair. Apparently, I got signature-happy and thought I could participate in every activity offered on campus. Roughly a month later, I am reminded of a few things. ‘Tis the season. ‘Tis the season for premature exhaustion and last-minute late-night studying. ‘Tis the season for full calendars that resemble rainbows. ‘Tis the season for wondering how this semester is beginning to feel like the last semester that was promised never to be repeated.
I find myself too often being overly ambitious. I usually enter my academic seasons, guns-a-blazing, wanting to make a difference, stand out, brand an impression, and change the world. I’m usually motivated, excited, and determined to make the following semester better than the last. I seize as many volunteer opportunities and extracurricular activities as I can, and then some, trying to fill in the small gaps of my agenda. However, I can’t recall a time when I haven’t identified as “busy.” For as long as I can remember, my life has revolved around self-reliance, diligence and full schedules. I’ve always been the queen of “yes,” taking on project after project, favor after favor, responsibility after responsibility. The more I’ve been able to cram and make plans for, the prouder I’ve always felt.
Last semester, I began to feel unfulfilled. I operated on autopilot and questioned if “busy” is necessary or healthy. I slowly began to inhibit the persona I was expressing towards everyone around me—the collected, motivated, confident student who was on top of things—and denied myself of feeling like things weren’t working. It wasn’t until I drove myself into a state of pure mental exhaustion and physical sickness that I realized the meanings of overcommitting and imbalance. I ran myself ragged before I understood what it means to set boundaries and highest priorities, establish healthy habits and value self maintenance.
Speaking from experience, and in lieu of involvement fair follow-up emails, here are a few things students can consider before committing to every booth they signed up for. First off, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Claudia Black says, “Saying no can be the ultimate self-care.” It’s easier said than done. Declining an opportunity is easier and more respectful than investing yourself and quitting later. An opportunity may be there for the picking, but it doesn’t mean you have to pick it. If you were to take on every great opportunity presented to you, you’d end up overloading, stressing, depleting your time for anything else, and burning out. It’s more manageable to commit to a few priorities that allow you to give your best effort while upholding your responsibilities and reputation as an academic student, teammate, athlete, club member, friend, employee, etc.
Secondly, you must learn to prioritize. It sounds basic and cliché, but it’s true. Purchasing a calendar or agenda is one of the best favors you could do for yourself. Jot down your class schedules, tests, presentations, labs, work schedules, study and homework time and other mandatory, daily activities. Believe it or not, this includes sleep and time to breathe. I believe having this visual is helpful when determining how much time you can realistically dedicate to extracurricular activities.
Lastly, remember your ultimate goals. Are the extracurricular activities you’re interested in going to help you grow as a person or professional? Are they aligned with your career plans? Are they just for fun? Do you want to be involved for superficial reasons, or are you genuinely passionate about them? How are these activities going to help you progress to where you want to be?
I asked William Martin, a Duke alumnus, “How do you gauge prioritization when it comes to overcommitting?” He said, “I think you have to balance your sense of fun and responsibility, and maybe the two can be intertwined. You need to feel like you’re giving your full commitment to things that are important to you and your success, (whatever you define that to be). You also need to explore in college and feel like you grow beyond the classroom. Have a balance that keeps you sane and allows you to enjoy opportunities and freedoms you may not have in the working world.”
It’s difficult trimming up responsibilities that you’re reluctant of letting go of but are costing you rest, time to eat, breathing room and mental health. It’s difficult, but sometimes it’s necessary. Take a step back, and re-evaluate your schedule. Does it maximize your potential, or does it hinder it? Let’s try to make a conscious effort in establishing and maintaining balance this semester.
The best way to stay organized is to have a planner. Photo by Ann Shelley