As I started classes this semester, I listened to every person in every class list their majors and minors, each person reciting a longer and longer list. At Brandeis we joke about everyone having more than one major, about the overachievers and the never-had-a-moment-to-breathers. And sitting in class as a first-semester senior listening to upperclassmen listing their two to three majors and two to three minors, I wondered what kind of example we were putting on for the freshman class.
These fresh-out-of-high-school 17- and 18-year-olds are watching us as upperclassmen, and they’re thinking that this is the norm. Because at Brandeis, it is. We are setting an example of overworking ourselves. I’m not trying to assign blame because I don’t think there is anyone or anywhere to assign it. You could blame the student body, the administration or society as a whole, but none of these are quite right. The exact cause is not clear, but the effect is undeniable.
Sophomore year my roommate burned out from working and studying nonstop since freshman year of high school. We spent the whole year worried about her as she continued to go through school and work even though she could barely walk and had visited countless doctors trying to figure out what was wrong. My graduated friends talk to me about all the people they know who had to move home because they had a nervous breakdown after joining the workforce. These stories are endless, and they happen because of this college culture of pride in one’s exhaustion.
Brandeis has endless resources to help us handle our hectic lives, and more are appearing as clubs and departments every semester. Increased staff at the counseling center, therapy dogs, meditation sessions, “Stressbusters” and Resilience Fairs all show exactly how much help we need when it comes to handling our stress. I am grateful to the administrators that saw the need for these resources because they are important for the health of the student body.
However, recently I have started to wonder why we need them in the first place. As Brandeis students, and as students in general, we live in a world that is constantly telling us to hold our breath until graduation. And then hold our breath until retirement. But we shouldn’t have to force ourselves to work harder than we should because we’re scared of the world that is chasing us after we graduate. Yes, we need these resources, and yes, I am grateful that they are available to us, but I am sad that they have become necessary for us to survive, and I wonder what will happen when we don’t live in a place that provides these resources for us.
We as upperclassman need to let others know that it is not commendable to work instead of sleep, that it is not impressive to not have any time to eat because you have back-to-back activities from dusk to dawn. We need to take care of ourselves over our studies and over our career because the better we feel and the healthier we are, the better we perform at school and at work.
I can’t stop our society or our school from putting as much pressure on its young people as it does, nor can I resist bowing under this pressure myself, feeling the anxiety and stress that comes with the never-ending question “What are you doing next year?” But I can implore, as a senior, that no one feels the need to take on more responsibilities or classes just so they feel like they’re doing “enough” because “enough” doesn’t exist. What does exist is a place where you’re doing what you love and what you enjoy without being choked by the lack of time to rest or room to breathe.
So, take on that extra major or minor, join that third or fourth club but only if it’s something you truly want to do. On the other hand, drop that extra class that you don’t need and lie in bed in the middle of the day on a Tuesday because you goddamn deserve it.