Wang: Take pride in what you do, not how much you do

Colin Wang, Columnist

Northwestern students are as busy as they come. We’re taking classes with midterms two or three times a quarter. We’re constantly running to and from exec board meetings. We’re putting on shows and performances, planning philanthropies, creating daily publications and interviewing for internships. Somehow, on top of all that, we’re staying up late for Halloween parties and getting up early for football game tailgates.

For many, the culture of busyness is nothing new. NU attracts high-achieving high schoolers who are able to juggle academics, leadership and extracurriculars while succeeding in all those areas. Coming to school here sets the idea of being busy as the standard. Back in high school, I felt proud of the fact that I was working harder than other people around me, but I always felt like I could slow down and relax with friends. When I came to NU, however, I felt that, if I wasn’t working hard, I was falling behind. Relaxing with friends became stressful as I focused on all the other things I could be doing with my free time.

Once I got here, I joined countless student groups, many of which I can’t even remember off the top of my head. I didn’t join most of those groups because I was particularly interested in what they did; I joined just to say that I was a part of something and doing something useful with my time. I became the definition of overcommitted and ended up wasting most of my time being busy while simultaneously getting nothing of substance done.

The importance of “quality over quantity” is often forgotten at NU. We like to think that we don’t have to choose one over the other, that we can do high quality activities in high quantities. We’re often afraid of taking a load off in times of stress because of the perception that giving up on our responsibilities makes us look like quitters or failures compared to those around us. We stay busy to keep up appearances.

It took me two years at NU and a nine-to-five job this past summer to finally escape the cycle of working for the sake being busy. I found that all my coworkers kept their work at the office. There wasn’t any expectation that I bring assignments home to finish. For the first time in two years, I was bored at home with an abundance of free time. When binge-watching TV couldn’t assuage the boredom, I created my own health studies research project that I would work on in my spare time.

As I listened to my friends talk about their summers upon returning to NU, I noted all the different places they traveled, the internships they held and the adventures that they had. My summer was comparatively tame, but what I lacked in number of experiences I made up for in the deep focus I placed on my own personal endeavor.

This year, I’m working to live out the lessons I learned this summer. I began by reaffirming my goals and aspirations for my time at NU. From there, I started pruning my commitments, striking out the activities that I felt weren’t constructive or enjoyable, and my list of responsibilities was quickly whittled down.

I feel more productive than ever before –– but if you compared my schedule today with my schedule at this time last year, I’m spending far fewer hours working each week. The difference is, now I’m spending more time on a smaller number of activities. Everything I do feels more meaningful. With my extra time, I’m able to sleep better and recharge mentally, physically and socially.

It’s unrealistic to expect that everyone can shake off the culture of busyness overnight. It’s taken me a long time, a lot of self-reflection and a fortunate situation to stop basing my self-worth on my number of extracurricular activities. The next time someone asks me what I’m involved in on campus, I’m not going to list off my commitments like a resume. Instead, I’ll feel satisfied when I explain that no matter the number of clubs I’ve joined, my time is spent meaningfully.

Colin Wang is a Weinberg junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.