Procrastination... or Carpe Diem?
Friday, November 2, 2012Tweet
One of the fun and interesting things about being back on a college campus is getting re-immersed in the entirely different culture in which (many) college students live. Those living on campus spend the vast majority of their time around people their own age -- learning, eating, working out, hanging out, walking around campus, etc. And all those people have the same limited set of priorities and concerns: classes, schoolwork, extracurriculars, roommates, friendships, dating... I remember when my biggest problems were an incompetent professor or a lazy group project member. What were once all-consuming worries of my own have passed, and are now the all-consuming worries of the students I see every day.
At the beginning of the school year, all the student athletes in our building had to interview their hall director (Mike) and, among other things, ask for a piece of advice. Mike told them: Don't procrastinate. Start projects early. Do a little at a time. And so on. The things he wished he'd done better in college.
It made me think back to my own college days and just how crazy busy I was between homework and student organizations. How after the first day of class I'd make a big calendar of all my major assignments that semester to see where they were going to overlap. How my junior year I took the two hardest courses of my college career in the same semester and seemed to spend every moment of free time in our building's study room, researching and typing.
The other night we had a fire alarm go off at 3am and everyone evacuated out onto the quad in their pajamas. I found out the next day that a bunch of girls in our building decided to go out for pancakes at a 24-hour diner since they were already awake anyway, and the waitress felt sorry for them and gave them free pie. And I found myself thinking about all of the spur-of-the-moment fun things I did in college, too. Especially when Mike and I were first getting to know each other, like when he pulled me away from my homework on a Saturday night to go make wax hand molds in the student union. Or when some girls on my floor threw a spontaneous dance party and packed a dozen or more of us into their tiny dorm room. Or the various excursions to go sledding down the big campus hill before the school put up signs prohibiting it.
In my experience, college provides more of these "carpe diem" type moments than most other times in one's life. Just about any fun or crazy thing you can come up with, you've got a bunch of people you know in your immediate vicinity to potentially jump on the bandwagon. And thus there are more of these either-or, "good" vs. "bad" decisions: Do I work on this paper, or go sledding? Go out for pancakes, or go back to bed?
I thought about what advice I would give students about how to make those kinds of decisions. And the more I think about it, the more I think that these reflections on time and priorities in college can shed light on how to craft our time and priorities in life outside of college.
Here are some thoughts I have:
Determining your priorities helps you make decisions
There's a great video from Ramit Sethi in which he interviews one of his friends about her priorities while in college. They each figured out what exactly they wanted to get out of college (rather than assuming their top goal was "get the best grades humanly possible"), and then could decide how to spend their time based on those priorities. It's the same kind of thought process I used when making my recent decision about which job to take, figuring out that it was most important to my overall happiness to 1) spend my time doing interesting and meaningful work and 2) learn a lot, rather than simply trying to make as much money as I could. I also try to remind myself that having great experiences and making memories with the people I love is more important in the grand scheme of things than getting 8 hours of sleep every single night of my life.
Most procrastination is not "carpe diem"
I think sometimes people talk as if someone who succeeds in school or work is by default missing out on the wonderful adventures and memories of life because they must have their "nose to the grindstone." But from my own experience and observations, the student who consistently fails to spend enough time on their homework probably isn't spending all that time having late-night snowball fights or going to salsa dancing events. Most of that time is probably getting sucked away by the usual suspects: Facebook. Twitter. Cat videos. Video games. What I found for myself was that when I started committing to saying "yes" to social events, I wasn't actually sacrificing that much time for important things like sleep or work; the time I was giving up was time that otherwise would have been wasted away on the Internet.
What's fun for you may not be fun for me
This is one of Gretchen Rubin's "Secrets of Adulthood." I know some people thought I was a boring stick-in-the-mud sometimes in college because I chose staying in on a weekend night to do homework over going out to a party, but it's not necessarily because homework was always my top priority. For one thing, I don't drink alcohol and don't even really like the smell of it, so even when I was of age I didn't really want to go to parties where everyone would be drinking. And even though I helped start a student organization that hosted alcohol-free weekend parties, I didn't always want to go to those either; I'm an introvert, and being around lots of people for a long period of time utterly exhausts me. Nowadays I try to balance "saying yes" and spending time with people with being honest about what things are truly not enjoyable for me. There's often no point in being dragged away from a project to do something "fun" that's not going to be fun for me.
What would you tell a college freshman about balancing schoolwork and fun? How does that translate to life outside college?