Gates: Flu reveals over-involvement epidemic


Matt Gates, Columnist

This year’s flu strain brought more than just droves of Northwestern students swarming to NU Health Service, coughing in the back of lecture halls or, if they dared, sleeping through class in their dorm room beds. It brought an awareness of another epidemic on campus: over-involvement.

When The Daily interviewed Thomas Reda, medical director of the NU Health Service, he urged students to get a flu shot despite it only reducing a recipient’s chances of having to see a doctor by 23 percent.

“If you can take five days off of class,” he said, “and lie in bed and feel like a truck hit you for those five days, don’t get the flu shot.”

But NU students have more to take care of when they’re sick than just class: jobs, internships, music groups, athletics, Greek life, writing for publications, charity work, volunteering … the list goes on. When students find themselves either struggling through class and activities or skipping these obligations to take care of their health, how do they bounce back into their busy lives? We have all watched friends and peers struggle through this. Involvement is a good thing for a variety of reasons, but the pressure that comes with the culture of involvement at NU can be detrimental to our health and happiness.

What does it say about us that when we get sick, we can’t even take a few days off to get better without falling disastrously behind? Is it not more important to stay healthy than to stay involved in that extra club or activity? The fact that our over-involvement can hinder our health has to prove that it is not always a good thing.

Moreover, how happy can we really be with our 17 extracurricular obligations? It’s possible to be passionate about more than a couple of endeavors, but at some point, we have to wonder if we feel obligated to join that one last student group just for the sake of our resume.

One might argue there is value in participating in a group we do not derive immediate satisfaction from because it will lead to happiness through post-graduate success. While working toward future goals during college is necessary, taking the pressure to get involved to extremes may barely enhance, if not even hinder, our future prospects.

In other words, in terms of building a resume, less can be more. Do any employers or graduate schools really look for students who were involved in everything? Even if they did, can anyone really do it all? What about students who were involved in and excelled at a few things they were passionate about?

At the end of Wildcat Welcome, my Peer Adviser gave me some of the best advice I have heard while at NU: This school has a lot to offer, but you can’t do it all. Sometimes, it’s about making choices, she told me. As a sophomore, I have watched many of my friends step back their involvement from freshman year, not because they are lazy or no longer ambitious, but because they realize they can accomplish more doing less. I have no doubt they are happier, better equipped to apply to jobs and grad school and more capable of handling a day off if they get the flu.

So next time you find yourself about to add another obligation to your list, consider what it is really offering you. If you are really passionate about this activity, you should join, but if not, you might be better off devoting your time to what you already have. You never know when the flu is coming your way.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to [email protected].