“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
I never imagined that at 21 years old I could so deeply commiserate with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins, but I do truly feel tired.
Between classes, work, residence hall events, small groups, clubs, campus events and other miscellaneous shenaniganry, it feels like I’ve been unable to truly breathe since the start of the semester.
I’m sure many can relate to this experience.
Whether a senior or a freshman, we all face the struggle of balancing what we have to do versus what we want to do. However, it can often seem like everything Taylor offers — especially with the constant reminders about intentional community — is an obligation.
While there is value to Taylor’s long-established approach to intentional community, I feel like it is easy to think that one must commit to everything. However, approaching life from this perspective — whether out of a sense of duty or a fear of missing out — is unsustainable long term. As I’ve painfully learned, trying to do everything will inevitably end in collapse as I try my hardest not to fall apart.
On three separate occasions this semester, I’ve descended into a state of existential doubt as I’ve questioned whether or not moving to Norway and becoming an ice fisherman would offer me better career prospects. As I emerged from the most recent of these episodes, it finally hit me: maybe I need to redefine my obligations.
What then, are our obligations? How do we separate our obligations from the other opportunities Taylor offers?
First, we need to determine what our non-negotiable obligations are. Then, we can examine how to avoid overcommitting. As my track record for this is terrible, this is very much a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’
Naturally, our number one obligation should be our studies.
“First and foremost you're a student, so completing your coursework is your first priority,” said senior Will Shroyer, fourth Gerig PA. “You're here to learn, you're here to be prepared — that is the goal. So everything else you commit to is kind of on the periphery.”
Other non-negotiables include sleeping and eating food. When faced with only 24 hours in which to fulfill an endless list of tasks, I’ve been known to neglect sleep and/or food in an attempt to complete tasks.
Many people have kindly told me this is not the wisest decision I could make, both for my health, but also for the quality of the work I put forth.
In “The New Science of Learning” by Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek, the authors cited a 2012 study from UCLA about the effects of sleep deprivation on quality of work.
“Sacrificing sleep for extra study time, whether it’s cramming for a test or plowing through a pile of homework, is actually counterproductive,” they wrote. “Regardless of how much a student studies each day on average, if that student sacrifices sleep in order to study more than usual, he or she is likely to have more academic problems, not fewer, the following day.”
One final obligation is chapel.
As the semester continues, the temptation to skip chapel increases, especially around midterms and finals. However, I’ve found that when I’m most stressed and chapel does not seem like the best use of my time is when I need to go to the most. It’s a cliché, but I do find that my day goes better when I attend chapel.
After this, it is up to the individual where they choose to dedicate their time and energy, whether that be clubs, extracurricular activities or residence hall events.
Regardless, remember that it is okay to say ‘no.’ The plentiful social events and opportunities are precisely that — opportunities.
“There's always going to be another event, there's always next semester to do this activity,” Shroyer said. “The social stuff is awesome, and it's a lot of what Taylor is about, but it's extra on top of being a student.”
On a final note, sometimes the storms of life are too much to endure on top of everything else. We may have bad days or bad weeks, times when it takes all of your willpower to even get out of bed.
In a Christian environment like Taylor, saying ‘no’ for the sake of one’s personal sanity should be met with forgiveness and understanding. There may be consequences, but we should never be afraid to take time for ourselves.
Just remember to breathe, friends.