Don’t just do it

The pressure to seize every opportunity can leave us with few real lessons.

By Andrew Young

Suddenly the room is enveloped with laughter. “What was so funny?” I ask the person sitting next to me. Apparently the moderator at the Institute of Politics (IOP) event had just made a joke about Todd Akin’s failed Senate campaign. I had been thinking about how to tackle this week’s Hum readings.

We are told many times throughout our academic careers that much of our learning takes place outside the classroom. We are told that the resources at this institution are unparalleled, about the vast number of books in our libraries on obscure but nevertheless interesting topics. To a degree, this has instilled within me a sense of anxiety—that the true value of this University will be lost on me if I do not fully engage with the school and its surrounding community. So in response I have made an effort to soften my edges, to become involved in a variety of different activities, and to attend events outside of the classroom that promise to make me a more “well-rounded” individual.

Yet too often I have found my mind drifting while in the middle of a seminar or a meeting. Whether I am wondering why I chose to attend this specific seminar or whether or not I can afford to continue with that fourth class, the desire to enrich myself to the greatest extent possible can have a regressive effect. The question at hand—a question we all should ask ourselves—is not what we choose to do with our time, but why we choose to do these things. Because many times after I have left an afternoon IOP seminar, its value to me is forgotten by dinner. The opportunity to form meaningful, lasting connections between the policy prescriptions spoken of at the IOP and my most recent Econ 198 class, for example, are quickly brushed aside in the rush to ensure that my internal ideal of a productive and fully engaged-individual is satisfied.

I often find myself in an internal debate about the tradeoffs of things like a lighter course load in exchange for a more robust extracurricular experience. Yet the activities I engage in often feel like they occur in a vacuum. They become mental junk food, a quick rush of excitement at the amount of new information I am being exposed to and a sense of satisfaction at having taken advantage of an opportunity that was not available to everyone. But this “sugar high” leaves me with no lasting benefits. The real value in attending an event or taking an extra class is largely found in the period following its occurrence. If we don’t spend enough of our own time linking together the themes of the things we do and synthesizing new information from them—that is, if we spend too much time hearing about ideas rather than reflecting on them—then we lack a proper balance. This imbalance undermines not only our goals, but also the reason why many of us chose to come to this University.

When we are striving to exploit every resource at our University, whether that means taking four classes instead of three, joining another RSO, or attending that extra seminar, we may find ourselves left without enduring lessons afterward; indeed, in our struggle to seize every opportunity and utilize every resource in our four short years here, we risk absorbing very little. Should we realize that our daily lives leave us with little room to live in the moment, much less the time necessary to reflect on our experiences, then we know we need to proceed more deliberately and evaluate the way we are going about doing things.

We’re in a relationship with this school; it’s good to take things slow.

Andrew Young is a first-year in the College.