TTLG: Overcommit to Yourself
Take it from someone who took on too much: Sometimes, you’re better off going back to basics.
This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.
I never thought I’d relate to the College. Attend it, work for it, report on and occasionally skewer it with an ideally witty pen? Sure! But relate to? How can I identify with an institution, a brick-and-mortar set of buildings and ever-expanding administrative offices in the middle of the woods? Well — and I know this sounds weird — I think the College and I are going through similar stages of life right now.
Everyone at Dartmouth is, at least to some extent, familiar with overcommitment. It probably started in high school, when almost all of us pursued too many extracurriculars, clubs and awards to count. The pursuit of self-betterment, of accomplishment, defined our early lives. If you’re anything like me, you were worn down by the time you reached your final year — and yet, all those extracurriculars, clubs and awards got us both into Dartmouth, so what are we complaining about?
Then, upon arrival in Hanover, we were immediately bombarded with new and exciting commitments — sorry, opportunities. Join one of the bazillion student groups! Play a new sport! Write for something! Get into research! Find an exciting campus job! Get involved in student government! Figure out what a “North Park House” is! Learn a bunch of Greek letters and drinking games in preparation for rushing — sorry, recruitment for — a frat! Find your lifelong friends! Get an internship! Get another internship!
And so on. The admissions office suggests that Dartmouth wants, simultaneously, “multi-talented” students who can “be extraordinary here.” That’s the goal: to order everything on the Cheesecake Factory-sized menu of opportunities, then find your specialty on campus and, through late nights and hard work and constantly pushing your limits, be extraordinary. Accomplish amazing things — if you don’t, then why are you here?
That’s the ethos that mentally defined my last four years. I joined The Dartmouth as soon as I could and wrote as many articles as I could, even during breaks and off terms. I couldn’t just be in any first-year seminar — I had to be in the Humanities sequence. It was application-only, so it must be the best, right? I relentlessly pursued internships, scoops, promotions, harder classes and other forms of recognition. Even when I took a pandemic gap year, ostensibly to get away from the online classes that so drained me during sophomore summer, I redoubled my reporting and worked extra shifts during the Christmas holidays during a global pandemic. Then I became editor-in-chief. More, more, more.
“Cute resume,” you note. “What on Earth does this have to do with relating to Dartmouth?” That’s just it: Over the past ten years, Dartmouth has been doing the same things I have.
Outgoing College President Phil Hanlon promised at his 2013 inauguration the “largest-ever investment in Dartmouth’s academic enterprise.” He delivered, with emphasis on the “enterprise.” Over the past decade, thanks in large part to the $3 billion Call to Lead fundraising campaign, Dartmouth has gone bigger. The construction of the Engineering and Computer Science Center and the Irving Energy Institute, renovations of the Hood Museum of Art and Hopkins Center for the Arts and expansions of graduate school programs all come to mind. And don’t forget the record endowment growth.
Yet in its zeal for ever more, Dartmouth forgot its raison d’etre, its rationale for existence, its reasoning for wanting to accomplish all those things: the maintenance of the phenomenal undergraduate experience at the heart of a Dartmouth education.“Though the College was placed on solid financial footing and made a number of key strides forward in academics and infrastructure, core problems like housing and mental health were mostly ignored, deteriorating to the point of crisis,” this newspaper’s Editorial Board wrote in January about Hanlon’s tenure. That Board, which I served on, was right: A calamity of poor quality, low-quantity housing crested at the same time as the worst mental health crisis in recent memory. In seeking ever-greater heights, Dartmouth forgot its fundamental responsibilities — and students paid the price.
And that forgetting, that lapse in judgment, that is what I relate to. In prioritizing my reporting often above all else, I too frequently let readings and studying slide. In trying to be the campus journalist on Twitter, I ignored the toll that platform takes on users. In refusing to balance my schedule with classes of different varieties and difficulties, I lost the time I needed to take care of my body with sleep and exercise. In becoming editor-in-chief — and taking on the 40-60 hour work weeks that entailed, not to mention the crises — I let longrunning friendships wither away.
I kept pushing, kept seeking more and more accomplishment, but at a cost. My priorities were distinctly out of balance (the pandemic did not help). And as the 2021-2022 academic year came to a close, I had a hell of a resume to show for it, but I also had a smaller social circle, a couple months of desperately needed therapy under my belt, a shockingly attenuated attention span and burnout more intense than anything I’d felt in high school. Most of all, I had a feeling that — for my final year at Dartmouth — things needed to change.
Here we are in that final year — a fifth year, one I never thought I would have, that gives me an opportunity I intend to seize. I’m setting goals for myself that I intend to stick to: saying no to the many places where I could exacerbate my overcommitment, getting off social media and back into more truly enjoyable uses of my time, balancing my classes, sleeping more and prioritizing the friends and relationships that make my life fun. Not just worth it, as I tell myself about work and accolades, but fun. I don’t regret pursuing the things I did, not at all, but I do regret how I balanced them — or, largely failed to balance them — with everything else.
Dartmouth could take a rebalancing lesson to heart. In the coming years, president-select Sian Leah Beilock has a responsibility, a duty, to students: Use the money Hanlon raised to tackle the issues he ignored, like housing and mental health. Her academic research is focused on stress and anxiety, and I hope she will apply that knowledge to her leadership, to policymaking for the College and to shifting campus culture toward a new, more healthy equilibrium.
Mirroring her duty, I feel that I have a responsibility to myself: Use the lessons learned from my vast overcommitment to rebalance my life and my priorities. I do not intend to cast aside drive and ambition, but I do have to recognize that only so much is sustainable. In other words, if I want to succeed, fulfill my goals and actually enjoy myself doing it, I need to dial things back.
And so, Dartmouth and I may be on a similar path in the coming years. Change does not come quickly; as the old saying goes, recognizing that you have a problem is only step one. If you’re a student reading this, though, especially a first-year student, consider the following as you begin or continue your Dartmouth career: Overcommit to yourself, not to accomplishment or accolades or a constant drive for excellence. You may find yourself happier for it.
Kyle Mullins is the former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2022.