You get to college and find all this freedom. Free time, freedom from parents, freedom to choose your classes, your major, your friends, your activities, your sleep schedule, and more. With this freedom comes a barrage of choices — so many choices, in fact, that many find themselves overwhelmed. Some take this overwhelming feeling and dive right back under the covers, opting to not do much of anything. Others try to do it all. Neither one turns out very successfully for most of us, unfortunately. With so much to do and see, with Facebook invites to various events coming in daily, email accounts that have to be checked hourly (or more), Groupme messages, Snapchats, elective classes, trips abroad, student groups on campus, etc., it’s so hard to find what really matters to you, and so easy to feel like you’re missing out. If only I had joined that club, if only I had done that this weekend instead of that other thing, if only I had become friends with that group of people, if only I had picked that major or taken that class or gone on that trip, or… The list is endless.
And if you’re anything like me, thinking about all of this gives you a headache and makes you sick to your stomach. We drive ourselves crazy thinking about what could have been. And in an effort to avoid regret, we overcommit ourselves, stretching ourselves thin, yet claiming that we “work well under pressure” or “like being challenged.” Now, that may all be true. Many people function at really high levels and can handle having a lot on their plates. But, even for these individuals, there comes a tipping point where this FOMO-bred over-commitment creates an unhealthy lifestyle.
Please raise your hand (not actually, unless you don’t mind garnering odd stares from those around you) if you’ve ever lost sleep over something you aren’t passionate about. If you’ve missed spending time with a loved one, or doing one of your favorite things, for something your whole heart isn’t behind. If you’ve caught yourself asking, “Why am I doing this?” more times than normal lately. If you catch yourself explaining most of the things on your to-do list with “I have to” or “I should.” Now, there is such a thing as being overcommitted to a laundry list of things you love. This is hard, but it’s my opinion that this feels less like overcommitment and more like fulfillment. If you love what you’re doing, it’s less likely to feel like work. You don’t mind spending all your time and energy on it, because it fills you up and shapes who you are. But it’s this other kind of commitment, the kind that comes from FOMO and comparison to those around you, that slowly eats away at you. That makes you feel tired not only to your bones but to your soul. That causes you to drag and slows you down, until you’re not sure you can move forward. That stresses you out to the point of simultaneous immobility and panic.
Is the potential of a great time, opportunity, or Instagram pic worth all this? As someone who has been there and done that, usually the answer is no. It’s great to try new things and be involved, and it’s great to challenge yourself and test your limits. But what I’ve found those around me and I struggle with most is saying “no” and freeing ourselves from commitments that no longer fulfill us or enrich our lives. Of course there are always things that need to be done that no one wants to do; that’s an unavoidable fact of life, and something none of us can get around. But, since we already have those stresses in our lives, why add to it by leaving ourselves tied to things we not only don’t want to do, but don’t have to do?
Oftentimes this comes from comparing ourselves to those around us. Our friends, our roommates, our peers. It seems like everyone is doing so much so well, that surely we’re just falling behind and not good enough. Well, this is not true, although it can certainly feel that way. What’s important to realize is personal limits. Yeah, some people really can do it all. But, these individuals are few and far between. And wouldn’t you rather do a few things that you love really, really well, than a ton of things you’re only partially invested in at a marginal level? It’s time we start asking questions about fulfillment. We are spending too much time, energy, and money to be where we are to do things we don’t care about. I haven’t figured out how to stop comparing myself to my friends, but I have figured out that I’m unhappiest when I’m constantly worrying about how I measure up.
My roommate is a chemical engineering major, the internal vice president of our residential college, does research for credit, was in the 50th anniversary production of Hello Hamlet, is a campus tour guide, and is involved in a slew of other things across campus, from the Rice Annual Fund to being a co-advisor at Will Rice College. One of my suitemates is an athlete from Australia who keeps her grades up while having the kind of social life TV shows are made of (and dating the kinds of guys cast in those TV shows). My other suitemate is a swimmer who made the FREAKING OLYMPIC TRIALS and was part of Wiess’ O-Week this past year. And I’m sure they all do things I have no idea about. They’re fantastic, fascinating people, and I love them each dearly. But damn, is it hard to live with them sometimes. They look like they do it all (and generally look amazing doing it), and it’s really easy to compare myself to them and think that I don’t measure up. We all do such different things, it’s easy to get bogged down by what they do that I don’t (or can’t), and fear I’m missing out because I’m not involved in what they are, or to the level that they are.
This is so frustrating and so unproductive. It’s hard not to feel this way, not to compare yourself to those close to you — especially those you live with. But if we can stop, even for a moment, and be satisfied with what we are doing, with what we can do, that will do a world of good. Maybe it means your commitments change, and you stop doing things just because you feel like you should. Maybe it means you take on a few things you’re really passionate about. Maybe it means your commitments don’t change at all, but you'll throw yourself into them with a renewed energy. Maybe you'll get more sleep. At the end of the day, I’m just here to do my thing, and you’re just here to do yours. Whoever likes it likes it, and whoever doesn’t can leave. Don’t let the FOMO get you down, or get in your head; it’s all going to turn out fine.