“Northwestern students’ favorite hobby,” he says, “is to freak out.”
I spent a while talking to Lim, a Weinberg junior, but this point stuck in my head long after the fact. It’s embarrassing how right he is. I can think of at least three things I’ve freaked out about today: how much reading I haven’t done, how many responsibilities I signed up for this week and how bad the water fountain is on the ground floor of Norris.
At the beginning of this quarter, I was trying my darnedest to be excited about not being busy. Two of my positions on exec/editorial boards were ending. I didn’t get the internship I applied for, which left me with two whole free days per week. I had dreams of reading for fun and sleeping in. They were nice dreams.
And yet somehow I seem to spend all my time doing things that aren’t homework, then flipping out when I realize just how much homework I have. Like every other quarter, I find myself canceling plans, constantly feeling out of time and not sleeping all that much. In spite of all my grand ideas, I’m still pretty freaking busy.
But the real issue is how much I convinced myself I needed to be busy – I looked around at all my friends, complaining about how they never had time to sleep or eat, and thought, “Yeah, I should be more like that.”
Let me make a confession: I don’t really like being busy. It pains me to say that. Plenty of people love being busy, and they always seem like the ones who are doing it right. I also interviewed Bri Hightower, a Communication junior who this year alone has been a part of Mayfest, SHAPE, the Northwestern Alumni Association and ASB, in addition to working two campus jobs (and she still has time to watch an hour of TV every night before bed). On the other hand Lim has never joined a student group, but he’s still very busy – he does his own projects with friends and is working on a triple major. Most of these people thrive on filling up every moment of every day, feeling nothing but anxiety when unstructured time appears.
I’m not like that. I like having time for reading, thinking and long conversations. I like taking trips down the Twitter or Wikipedia rabbit hole, like when you start by reading about “Antisocial Personality Disorder” and somehow end up learning about Cenobitic monasticism. I like being free when a friend asks if I want to go exploring in the city. Unstructured time doesn’t scare me that much – it structures itself. I learn new things, and I don’t feel nauseous from the stress of it.
The culture of busyness at Northwestern is never-ending. Whether I’m just meeting someone for the first time or catching up with a close friend, my immediate instinct is to talk about our classes, our massive amounts of homework and activities and our mutual lack of sleep last night.
This doesn’t seem like a good thing, especially with the scary rate of mental health issues among college students.
But I don’t think there’s an inherent problem with busyness – I think there’s a problem with expecting absolutely everyone to be busy. When we meet new people here at Northwestern, we shouldn’t immediately launch into a discussion about our terrifying schedules. Conversations should have meaning – and activities should, too. When someone asks what I’ve been up to lately I’d like, “I’ve been reading this crazy book about abolitionists,” to be as acceptable an answer as, “I was up until 5 a.m. writing a paper after my exec meeting went long.”
Lim said we spend just as much time talking about how busy we are as we do actually being busy, and he’s right. It’s time for that to change. All my freaking-out time could just as easily be productive time for doing homework or reading or just hanging out, if I would only let myself chill. Being doing-it-all superstars is at the heart of everything we do at Northwestern, but maybe we need to redefine what exactly being a superstar means.