To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Great expectations

Brandeis students do a lot. From research to volunteering to partying, we are a busy student body. My friends and I often talk about the “stereotypical Brandeis student”: president of five clubs, takes six classes and works in seven different research labs. Although this caricature of a Brandeis student may not exist, the temptation to embody it is strong.


I feel myself pulled to do everything here. Don’t get me wrong, I do a lot. But the temptation to do more and inevitably overcommit myself to everything is strong. I write for The Hoot, why not join Gravity? I’m a Hispanic Studies UDR, maybe I should consider taking on Hispanic Studies as a third major! I’m doing research with a professor, so starting another on-campus job couldn’t possibly be that much more work…


Brandeis presents a veritable banquet of things to do every single day. There’s just so much stuff: activities that I sink hours upon hours into each week, terrible food to complain about, friends to see, high school friends to call, family to keep in touch with and so much more (but I can’t list it here or my head will explode as I attempt to do all of them at the same time).


People have different ideas on how to approach the massive task of getting the most out of higher education. Upon first coming to Brandeis, I heard a student tell me their plan for their four years here: “Grab a bag, fill it with as much education as I can and get out.” I’ve even repeated their mantra myself, as I hope to squeeze as much education as I possibly can out of my four years here too. But, as I move through the process of filling my metaphorical bag with as much metaphorical education as I can, I’m finding out just how harmful that mindset is (metaphorically).


I want to be educated; I want to learn about the world around me and how I ought to move through it. I want, even more strongly, to turn the inward lamp and learn about myself. But, the pressure to be a unique, remarkable and multi-faceted individual is so strong that it’s hard to feel like I’m doing enough. I talk about this phenomenon frequently, and I recently received a very thoughtful response from someone close to me after I asked them if I should take on yet another commitment: “I admire your drive but don’t want you overwhelmed. Nor should you be underwhelmed. Just be ‘whelmed.’”


I like this idea. The idea of knowing that you do enough. Allowing yourself to live with the satisfaction that your efforts are worthwhile and that while you can do more you choose not to because you value your own (fraying) sanity. 


I love how I choose to spend my time: the classes I take are fulfilling, my friends are the kindest people that have ever walked this earth and my days are full with all the right things. But the pressure can be unyielding at times. The pressure to take more classes, to make more friends and to just do more of everything weighs on me sometimes. I want to be whelmed, but there’s a little voice that calls upon me to be overwhelmed, and it grows stronger when I choose to spend my time sleeping in, watching YouTube videos or doing any other pointless activity.


I’m doing my best to be content with being whelmed. Enjoying the quiet moments in my dorm. Watching the occasional YouTube video about a game I enjoy. Spending time with the people that matter to me and letting myself not even think about doing homework while I’m with them. Small victories over the voice that beckons me into the deep dark pit of over-commitment.


My version of a full college experience isn’t defined by how many classes I take, how many clubs I join or how many volunteer hours I log. It’s defined by what I learn about myself, and what I do with that newfound knowledge. On some level, I know this. I fight the urge to engage in the Sisyphean task of having enough things to put on my resume and doing enough to make both myself and my parents proud. But it’s hard.


Four years of being an undergraduate offers new opportunities for exploration into quite literally everything. Maybe I’ll try to capture more of that Brandesian magic someday. But for now, I’ll focus on being “whelmed” with my considerable commitments to friends, classes and clubs. 


And that will be enough.

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