Before I eventually committed to UC Berkeley, I was fairly certain I wanted to attend a small school. The constant bustle of activities at large public schools overwhelmed the introvert in me, and I was more than a little intimidated by the thought of taking the plunge into the distant, unknown world of parties. During the summer leading up to my first year of college, I imagined myself building a small group of friends on my floor, focusing on academics and maybe joining a casual, low-commitment club.
I completely failed at all of these things. Instead, I totally overextended myself.
I was balancing challenging technical courses as a molecular environmental biology major, averaging six hours a week performing with a college improv team and working at The Daily Californian, first as a reporter, later as a weekly columnist and now as an assistant editor. On top of that, I was enjoying nightly two-hour dinners with my friends in Foothill, going out every Friday and Saturday night and still finding time for all those other little things — sleeping, doing laundry and working out every now and then.
Fine. That’s not entirely true. I never do my laundry.
It wasn’t long before I began to feel the effects of spreading myself too thin. I felt like a crepe, but in beast mode — stretched beyond the normal limitations of thinness, to the point that I doubted how many more strawberries I could hold.
Two things happened almost simultaneously: I found myself addicted to my hectic, fast-paced lifestyle, and I stopped prioritizing my personal needs above my responsibilities.
I get an average of four hours less sleep per night than I did when I was in high school. I eat meals less frequently. I don’t call my parents as often as I should. Even when I do have time for myself, I am filled with an overwhelmingly nagging urge to be working; not being busy now stresses me out more than knowing I won’t have enough time to get to everything.
I’m definitely more extroverted now than I ever was growing up. I’m obsessed with being around people; I can’t say no to almost any invitation. It’s become an addiction; the energy I once derived from peaceful nights at home is replaced by a constant scratch for social contact.
But I think the scarier part is just how much I love it.
Living on the verge of constantly feeling like I’m going to burn out has, strangely, been amazing. I’m discovering new things about myself, simply by virtue of challenging myself in new ways. As I take on new leadership positions or more difficult classes, I can feel my capacity for other more daunting tasks grow. I might always be doing something, but I’m always doing something that I love — and then by extension, I love always doing something.
I’ve met people that I never would have expected to meet otherwise, and each and every one has transformed my college experience in some way. I have plans to take on even more commitments come fall — I have a running list that’s at least seven organizations long — because I’ve come to realize that when I graduate, I won’t remember the stress nearly as well as I will the life-changing experiences I’ve had.
In other words, it might be disastrous for the ice in the Arctic Circle, but for you, spreading too thin can sometimes turn out to be a positive thing.
That being said, there are risks. Spreading thin often translates to digging shallow; if you do too many things, you won’t be able to engage with any of them at maximum capacity. It’s true that at the end of the day, you need to know how to say no to some things.
Use your limited time to your advantage. Be selective — lots of people are willing to compete for your attention, which puts you in the position of getting to choose which commitments will be most fulfilling for you. Not every activity is going to be a perfect match, and I’m here to tell you that if that’s the case, you don’t need to sign yourself up for it.
Also, take some time for yourself. It’s a hypocritical thing for me to say, but you can be so much better at this than me simply by reading a book, meditating or going for a walk — not because you have time, but because you deserve it.
Truthfully, four years will never be enough time, no matter how you choose to spend it. Find the things that make you happiest, and chase those things to the ends of the earth.
Contact Shannon O’Hara at [email protected].