Balancing Act: Stress and the Swattie

The rocky shore line of the castle sands beach of St. Andrews Scotland at low tide following a brief rain storm – normal temperamental weather here in Scotland. In the left corner we see the ruins of the St. Andrews Castle sitting on top of the cliffs. This castle was built by the Bishops and Archbishops of St. Andrews as a place for receiving guests and as a protected residence. It was captured by Protestants during the Reformation and then besieged by the Catholic Scottish Regent, James Hamilton in 1546. Following the Reformation, the castle slowly fell into ruin, including parts of it falling into the sea.


Swarthmore students love to be too busy. After all, many of us were accepted here by being manic overachievers in high school. We ended up with stacked academic resumés, as well as long lists of stress induced mental break-downs. By graduation, we will all be professionals at misery poker. The love-hate relationship we have with our work outshines the cheesiest of soap opera romances — and like the characters in those shows, we just can’t say no to a good opportunity to make ourselves miserable.

But stress can get to even the most talented balancers.

As she bustles between practice and the practice rooms, Corinne Candillis ’17 proves to have mastered the over-achieving game. And yet she came to me a few weeks ago, overwhelmed and very clearly overworked. I knew that the situation was bad when someone as strong and put together as Candillis was worried about her involvement with varsity lacrosse, an a cappella group, the debate society, and her devotion to getting ten hours of sleep every night.

She was spreading herself too thin. She couldn’t completely devote herself to any single activity. On top of that, linear algebra proved to be a particularly challenging course that was demanding more attention than she could currently give it. This woman, who was so often a rock for me, now was in desperate need of a pep talk.

As we talked, Candillis expressed concern that she was guilty for not being able to do everything, and inadequate in the face of her challenging workload. We did what any friends would do- listened, provided hugs and inspirational music, and tried to help her figure out what was most important to her from her broad palette of interested.

Candillis eventually felt her life fall into balance once again, as we assured her it would. In retrospect, she simply was facing the classic Swattie struggle. We like to do it all. We can’t say no. It seems like Swarthmore students are constantly walking on the fine line between being wonderfully busy and on the go, and straight-up exhausted. This is the natural byproduct of our inability to turn down new opportunities. This spring, Candillis recognized that there’s a limit to how much we can do.

This tendency of Swatties to take on so much is a double-edged sword. In fact, it may be our greatest weakness. We are exhausted, addicted to caffeine, and sometimes overwhelmed, as in Candillis’ case. But it is also what makes Swarthmore magical.

“I feel like everyone I have met at this school — I can literally sit down and have a three hour conversation with anyone. Everyone here is so well rounded,” Candillis was telling a spec today at lunch. We were discussing how Swarthmore students are involved in many different types of activities. It’s rare to find a student who fits a single stereotype.

The spec is deciding between Swarthmore and two other non-liberal arts schools. Candillis and I explained to her how the liberal arts naturally draw students who enjoy dabbling in a variety of subjects. In short, the student body here is self-selected to be interesting. From the lunch line at Sharples to the unique perspectives that are expressed in my classes, Swarthmore makes sure that I am always in awe at humanity and the endless dimensions of human nature.

Reflecting on this year, I am grateful to have met such interesting, unique, multilayered individuals such as Corinne Candillis — even at the price of a few sleepless nights. Yes, we may be stressed and fatigued, but we are interesting. Swarthmore provides us with perpetual reminders that the exhaustion and all nighters are worth it. It is in our briefest moments of friendship and relaxation that we can celebrate Swatties and their stories, which are the beautiful threads that weave together the fabric of this community that has come to be my home. While finding the balance between our priorities can often be an immense challenge, keeping up our hard work is what transforms us into fascinating individuals like those I have met this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix