On Being Busy

by Cristian Cano | 4/29/20 2:35am

Remember when we all thought that with online classes, we were going to have so much free time to watch Netflix, go hiking and maintain a consistent sleep schedule?

Good times.

In all seriousness, maybe some of you are finding yourselves with a bit too much free time, and if that’s the case, I’m a little jealous. I’m in the complete opposite situation: Just today, in addition to finishing up this article, I had to finish a project, two presentations, over 50 pages of reading and a Canvas discussion post.

Put short, I am struggling. And I haven’t even mentioned my overdue assignments yet; I have at least a couple in all three classes.

Do I blame my professors for assigning way too much work? For the most part, not really. Sure, it doesn’t help that two of my classes ended up meeting on different days than they were originally scheduled to — so what was supposed to be a nicely spaced-out week became three classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with little breathing room in between. But for the most part, I don’t think the sheer quantity of classwork is the problem.

“When I think about my favorite memories at Dartmouth, I usually think about exceptions to my routine: going apple picking, cliff jumping or taking a weekend trip to Montreal.”

If I had to pinpoint the number one culprit, it would be my dependence on having a fully booked schedule and routine.

When I think about my favorite memories at Dartmouth, I usually think about exceptions to my routine: going apple picking, cliff jumping or taking a weekend trip to Montreal. Why, then, do I always fill up my schedule so much that I barely have any time for those special, spontaneous moments?

It’s no secret that I like to get involved. Even in middle school, when after-school clubs weren’t very popular, I found ways to stick around after classes ended. When I started boarding school in the ninth grade, and my dad’s ability to drive me to and from extracurricular activities was no longer a limiting factor, I got more involved than ever. I explored some of my strongest interests, like the performing arts, but I also held onto activities that I never felt that passionate about, like Mu Alpha Theta math honor society or student government. I flew to my high school’s campus before classes started for my role as a prefect in the boys dorm, and I often had to stay up past quiet hours because theater rehearsal ended late.

I’m not trying to brag. On the contrary, I keep asking myself: What was I thinking? I didn’t sleep enough, I certainly didn’t exercise as much as I should have and I still wonder how many more friendships I could have developed had I let myself back off from all the clubs, at least a little bit.

“When I got to college, I told myself not to get too involved right away, and it worked — temporarily.”

When I got to college, I told myself not to get too involved right away, and it worked — temporarily. My freshman fall, I was really only involved at The Dartmouth, and that was also the only term I spent without having any form of employment whatsoever. On Mondays and Fridays, my only obligation was attending my 10, and I had plenty of time to focus on classes, my social life and sleep.

Looking back now, that sounds like paradise, but I distinctly remember feeling unsatisfied with how uninvolved I was freshman fall. Especially after I went through a cappella auditions without getting a callback, I started feeling very insecure about how so many of my friends now had these groups, these “families” of upperclassmen who would show them the ropes, and I didn’t.

So naturally, I decided to get more involved, and within a few terms, I was busier than ever. In some ways, I loved being so busy, since it meant I was meeting all sorts of people from around campus and making a name for myself. In other ways, it got harder and harder to find time to just relax, or at the very least to do so without feeling guilty.

“I used to laugh when I heard that some students at Dartmouth actually scheduled meals with friends into their calendars, and then I became that very same kind of person.”

I used to laugh when I heard that some students at Dartmouth actually scheduled meals with friends into their calendars, and then I became that very same kind of person. I spent some of the prettiest days of sophomore summer cooped up inside, miserably trying to understand my biology homework. And even now, when “quarantine culture” suggests that we should have plenty of time to bake and watch Netflix, I’m regularly setting my alarm to before 8 a.m. just to have enough time to finish everything I need to.

We’ve all seen the memes about how Dartmouth students love to brag about how overworked and overbooked they are. Misery loves company, after all, and at a school like Dartmouth, who isn’t a little miserable sometimes? But as my time at Dartmouth quickly comes to a close, I wish I had let myself be a little less miserable — yes, I know how odd that sounds — and a little more content with doing less.

There are a lot of things on my Dartmouth bucket list that I never let myself do. I never did the Lou’s Challenge, because if I pulled an all-nighter to finish an assignment, my work wasn’t magically finished when Lou’s opened. I still haven’t even been on a Baker Tower tour, as I was always busy with something during every big weekend. And don’t get me started on all of the off-campus excursions that I missed because I couldn’t afford the time it would have taken to drive back and forth. Sure, there’s always the possibility that I check some of those off the list when I come back to visit as an alum, but the reality is that I missed my chance when I had it.

“I just wish that I could have let myself enjoy the moments of respite for what they were, instead of immediately giving in to the urge to fill them with something more productive.”

I don’t want this piece to come across as advice to get less involved. Some of my most valuable experiences at Dartmouth were through the many organizations I’ve been a part of, and some of my latest nights resulted in the work I’m most proud of. I just wish that I could have let myself enjoy the moments of respite for what they were, instead of immediately giving in to the urge to fill them with something more productive.

Pretty soon, the phrase “extracurricular activities” will be a memory, and I can’t deny the fact that I’m a little scared for what comes next. I’m sure I’ll still find plenty of ways to stay busy — let’s be real, my tendency to overcommit isn’t going to magically vanish just because I wrote this piece — but I do hope that I give myself the unstructured time to take breaks, be spontaneous and make some memories worth keeping.

And sleep in. That’s important, too.

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