Recently, a friend from another college told me she was idly considering adding a minor to her major. It made me laugh, because here at NYU, minors are more or less not optional—likewise with double majors. When someone asks you what you're studying and you answer in one word, they blink at you, waiting for the rest of your list. (Or, if they're less subtle, they say "That's it?")
One of the best things about being an NYU student is the opportunities. As part of a massive institution, we have access to virtually endless academic resources and extracurricular organizations. As part of New York City, we also have access to virtually endless jobs and internships, plus virtually endless recreation and entertainment options. Anything you want to do, you can do here—times ten.
It's so easy to bite off more than you can chew when the buffet looks this good.
I spend most days rushing between classes, homework, and extracurricular commitments, feeling guilty when I stop long enough to eat or sleep. That's probably not an unfamiliar feeling for most college students. But New York moves at a hyper-fast pace, and NYU is, as they say, in and of the city.
Even while I spread myself as thin as possible, I worry I'm not spreading far enough or fast enough. Everyone around me always seems to be doing more, and with less stress. I'm falling behind, with my one major and my sparse resume.
These days I am ruled by checklists, moving from task to task as efficiently as I can while maintaining a baseline level of human sanity. I'm no robot, but I try to embody the robot mindset: output, output, output. When I conquer one job, another rises up to take its place. I dream about upcoming student council events and job interviews.
And on some level, I'm impressed with myself. I like that I have figured out how to become part machine, that my breaths are budgeted to the second, that I have no time to stray from productivity. I feel like a heroine in a movie, striding around at top speed, barking orders at my subconscious instead of an office full of subordinates. High-powered. Deliberate. In control.
Except that I'm also falling apart. Every day feels I'm like fixing leaks in a boat only to find more, and no matter what I do, rushing back and forth with buckets and duct tape, I'm standing in ankle-deep water. I'm not going to drown. But the threat is still there. The water is still rising.
Everything I do is half-done, without my full attention, much less my full abilities. I'm constantly apologizing for not turning projects around fast enough. I'm embarrassed by my own work. I hand everything over with a disclaimer that I should have done much better.
The thing is, this was supposed to be temporary. Every week, I look at the uphill climb ahead and swear it's the last week like this because next week I won't have this event or that essay or this midterm or that friend coming into town.
But although the roadblocks change, the road is always blocked. I'm always busy. And I'm always stressed because of it.
But busyness is a mark of adulthood. It's how you interact with other adults: You compare burdens with everyone you talk to and feel bitter smugness when yours are bigger.
Maybe it's because we associate being busy with being fulfilled. If you're constantly working, constantly being productive in measurable and society-approved ways, you're never sitting alone in a dark room, wondering what you should be doing with your life. Your life is already booked up.
I remember being in a college adjustment class when my academic advisor asked how many of us felt guilty during our free time. Almost every hand in the room went up.
It's a hard mindset to shake, that life is a race and we have to run it at top speed. We glorify busyness, worship it, cultivate it and use it as proof of our own worth.
But my nerves are frayed. My mind is fried. I don't want to do this anymore.
I don't want busyness. I want balance. I want to feel fulfilled because I am doing a few things that matter, not because I am doing a lot of things. Quality, not quantity.
But I'm just a college student. I'm staring down a great big ocean of possibility, and I've got a lifetime of learning how to swim without sinking. It takes a little practice.