Three years ago this week, I was an incoming freshman, and I was going to do it all. There was always something else I could add to my schedule, crammed between the full course load, two or three jobs, campus clubs, and volunteer work. I said ‘yes’ to almost anything I was asked to do. And I spent the next three years perpetually on the edge of burning out.
I want to talk about high expectations.
For three years, I’ve tried to be superhuman. Someone told me that ‘C’s were supposed to be average, ‘B’s good, and ‘A’s excellent. I thought that was ridiculous. To me, an A- was a disappointment and a B+ felt like a death.
On top of this pressure, I sang in the choir and wrote for the paper and led events in my dorm and tutored high school students and refugees and cried in my room about once a week.
My parents and professors were thrilled by my performance, but I slept 5 or 6 hours a night. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t have time to read or go for walks or pray. My relationships suffered. I had days with more appointments than would fit in my planner. I threw away my planner and I still kept going.
This is not what college is supposed to be about.
There’s no glory in doing a thousand things half-heartedly. There’s no value in getting an ‘A’ if you forget the material the minute you snap out of your sleepless cramming haze.
College is the chance to go deeper. And in many ways, in my breadth of involvement, I missed that.
New students, you’re about to stop by “Coke’s ‘n’ Clubs” where a million groups will vie for your membership. You are about to start four, five, or six classes, all of which seem to demand your full attention. You’re going to feel pulled by friends back home and friends in your dorm and the guilty pull of your unread Bible and unwashed sheets.
Realistically, there will be nights when your band concert is the night before your big test, and that will be the night that your roommate needs to talk until the early morning. But when those nights become weekly or daily events, it’s time to take a look at how your life got so full.
Make sure you have time for every class in your schedule. If you don’t, drop one. The choice to stop going to a class that was three too many hours in an already-chaotic week was one of the best decisions I have made.
Second, pick a group and stick with it. Maybe you’re in student senate, or the African Students’ Association, or dance guild, or Chimes (hey, we always need more writers). But if you want to do well there, be there fully. Find something you love and invest in it, be good at it. That’s almost impossible when your hand is in every pot.
Finally, don’t forget about yourself. It’s you who has to handle the emotional investment of friends and groups and mentees. It’s your body that has to stand the strain of the wrong food and too little rest. If a half hour run or a sit-down breakfast seems impossible to fit into your schedule, change your schedule. Make time for yourself, for friends, for God. Put down your laptop for long enough to let yourself be quiet with your own thoughts.
There will always be something else I can add to my schedule. But slowly, I’m learning that ‘no’ is as important an answer as ‘yes,’ that grades don’t begin to define me, and that some nights it’s good to just stay home.
Welcome to Calvin. I hope you say yes to a lot of things while you’re here. But I hope you’re selective about it. In the chaos of your next four years, I hope you accept that you can’t do everything, and let ‘no’ be your ticket into doing a few things very well.