I am easily stressed. I always feel the need to accomplish something even though I do not have to. Whenever I see people cranking out essays furiously in McCabe or complaining (read: humblebragging) about how sleep-deprived they are, I psych myself out, questioning whether I have worked enough. Even though I have the pass-fail cushion this semester, I have bailed out of social events on several occasions for fear of not studying enough. At a high-pressure institution like Swarthmore, it is sometimes difficult to relax, even for just a moment. An unexpected event changed my mindset. How? Here’s my story.
Three weeks ago, I received an e-mail about SwatDeck, offering $15, a one-day Independence Pass to Philadelphia, and an opportunity to travel with three Swarthmore students. I signed up without hesitation, even though I did not totally understand how the event worked. However, as the day for SwatDeck approached and work started piling up, ambivalence struck my mind: would it be alright if I took a break? Soon, the day came; I deviated from my study-Sunday for the first time by joining SwatDeck. I did not regret my decision.
When I arrived at the Swarthmore Station, there were many Swatties chatting with one another while waiting for the train to arrive. After checking in with the organizers of SwatDeck, I introduced myself to the other three members in my group, two of whom I had come across but never talked to. The group’s diversity was impressive. In terms of academics, there was an interest in classics, economics, computer science, and foreign languages. In terms of extracurriculars, we had lacrosse, badminton, and softball athletes, as well as a columnist for the Phoenix (me, apparently). None of us live in the same dormitory or take the same classes. Indeed, the event provides an escape from the “Swarthmore bubble.”
Soon after, the organizers handed us a list of recommended places, such as the popular restaurants in Chinatown, historic sites within Philadelphia, etc. Fortunately, the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers a free entrance on the first Sunday of every month, and because this coincided with SwatDeck, my group paid a visit to the museum to see the art exhibition. Having never visited any art museum before, I was thrilled to see such famous works of art as Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain.” Thanks to the fact that one of the members in my SwatDeck group was knowledgeable in art history, I could see the art and appreciate the background behind some of the works as well. Moreover, the museum trip introduced me to many controversial debates, such as whether a work of art could be made of non-art structures and what the essence of art is. After our museum trip concluded, my group dined at a delicious Chinese restaurant nearby and had a great conversation.
What do I make of this experience? First of all, after reflecting upon SwatDeck, I realized that, counterintuitive as this claim sounds, I learn more from “learning” less. During the past few months, I have focused on the classes I am taking to an extreme degree. As each class intensifies in its difficulty, I find it progressively more difficult to explore other subjects with which I am unfamiliar. However, SwatDeck made me realize that doing random activities can be educational, as well. Thanks to my visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I understand more when my friends debate such topics as what qualifies as a work of art or whether one should, when interpreting art, take the artist’s history into account. Had I decided to finish my homework that day, I would not have found my interest in art or art history. The joy of letting the pressure to work go led me to somewhere unexpected.
What I also appreciated about SwatDeck is that the event helps people who are unlikely to meet to socialize with one another. Although the small size of the Swarthmore community can help foster close relationships, such relationships may not necessarily occur. In my case, because I am not heavily involved in sports and usually take STEM classes, I would never have met an athlete who enjoys studying classics had it not been for SwatDeck. This situation applies to every person across our institution. It is unrealistic to take the size of Swarthmore for granted and expect to meet new people automatically. To break out of the “Swarthmore bubble,” one must take the initiative to meet and build relationships with those outside of one’s social circle.
Lastly, when I let go of the work-first mindset, I experienced the joy of living in the moment. The thought “I must work” does not cloud my mind as it used to. I realized how unrealistic it is to tell myself I must finish every piece of work before I can relax; no matter what day of the year it is, I still have some tasks to finish or some activities I want to do. In other words, one will never truly have free time; work always exists, no matter what. Sometimes, work can wait, and we can focus on some events that cannot.
All in all, by deviating from my habits, I discovered an unexpected joy from meeting new people and visiting places I had never been. The joy of living in the moment comes from freeing oneself from the binding pressure to always work and differentiating between what needs to be done and what needs to be done now. And this joy is invaluable, indeed.