When we were in high school, college admissions officers taught us that we needed to be as involved as possible. We needed the hardest classes, the best grades, and the most leadership positions. This mindset not only put an inordinate amount of pressure on high school students — especially first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color — it also followed us into college.
At Swarthmore, we pressure each other into hyper-involvement on campus. Students can feel like if they’re not running from class to meetings to office hours to practices to the library with no time in between, they’re not doing enough. By creating a culture that idealizes overwork and exhaustion in academics and extracurriculars, many of us have found ourselves unable to devote time to the activities and people that we truly care about.
Participation in campus groups can, of course, be positive: it’s a way to make friends in a new environment, explore our interests, and learn how to work well with others. But sometimes, we join extracurriculars and accumulate leadership titles without thinking about the commitments we’re making. We compare ourselves to other students who always seem smarter, more involved, and more impressive. Either that, or we worry about whether employers will think we have enough experiences from campus activities to bolster our already obsessed-over academic record. But research shows that in terms of career success and fulfillment, the best thing students can leave college with is a passion; the worst is indifference. And the fastest path to indifference is burnout.
Being a conscientious leader takes much of one’s time and energy. So do classes here, and so do campus jobs, and so does being in a place where we are constantly around other people. In the dash to squeeze every last minute out of college, we forget that there’s nothing wrong with having enough time to not have to do readings for our 1:15 class while shoving Chinese food down our throats in Sci Commons.We should stop expecting ourselves to do it all when it’s more than enough to concentrate on doing a few things well. More importantly, we should stop expecting others to do it all.
We need to re-envision involvement on campus. We should strive for our activities to fulfill us, and not for them to check a metaphorical box on our list of things we believe we should do. The college experience does not need to be an aggregation of different titles and endeavors; instead, we should aim to follow our interests and give ourselves time to commit deeply. And this doesn’t always mean following convention, as some interests don’t have clubs or classes that go along with them.
So debate as long as you enjoy debating. Write for The Phoenix as long as you enjoy writing, care about seeking the truth, and are passionate about journalism. Play a sport as long as you love playing that sport. Volunteer as long as giving back fulfills you. The everpresent, elusive Elite Grad School or Well-Paying Job may like to see perfect grades; but in the future, a test score from a class you weren’t interested in won’t matter. You’ll instead remember spending hours working on a boat for the Crum Regatta with your friends, working to organize a public film screening, or talking to your professors well beyond office hours end. Do what you care about— and don’t worry about what your classmates will think about it.