My life is much more ‘rise and grind’ than ‘rise and shine’ these days. With summer courses, internships and extracurriculars, I’m pretty busy. I recently came across a photo from my monthly high school calendar. Wow, did I give in to the pressures of the grind culture. At least I gave in to the pressures a lot more than I do today. Back then, I was filling my schedule with every extracurricular and AP class imaginable, whatever my interests. This year, I learned to limit my involvement.
My over-involvement peaked in March of Grade 11. In 10 days, I spent five hours sleeping in my own bed. I got home from a debate trip around midnight and had to be at school at five in the morning for a robotics trip. COVID-19 hit near the end of my senior year of high school and it forced me to slow down. During my stay at home, I recognized how unsustainable my engagement habits were. Even though I didn’t let my responsibilities slip away, I didn’t take care of myself.
In college, I tried to avoid the pressures of over-involvement that once consumed me. Even though I’m far from perfect, I’m doing a lot better. I take the time to socialize with friends outside of my academic bubble, to read for leisure and to get enough sleep. The societal pressures to become excessively involved in university are overwhelming. It’s not worth it, and it’s also not good for you.
College admissions are more competitive in recent years – especially given the pandemic. Over-involvement is probably increasing for this reason. Most of my involvement in high school was so that I could get into a competitive college. I kept adding activities to my plate to build my resume. Over-involvement is common among students of wealthy families. Clubs, music lessons and sports keep the students busy. But work also falls into the category of extracurricular activities. The challenges of working while learning affect low-income students in a larger measure. These pressures to excel in studies and other extracurricular activities can manifest in middle school. Don’t feel guilty if you relate to all of this. It is difficult to escape the pressures that surround us. They don’t surround us any less in college, and it’s time we recognized the toll it takes.
How do you fit more activities into your schedule? You avoid sleeping, eating, exercising, and social activities, all of which are important to your overall health. In high school, I would go to bed around midnight and wake up at 5:30 am. It is a serious problem. Johns Hopkins Health writes that sleep deprivation “can affect your mood, memory and health in surprising and profound ways.”
This can lead to a increased risk of dementia, fatal car accidents and the development of type 2 diabetes. Over-involvement can also lead to immense amounts of stress. Stress tracks weakened immune systems, high blood pressure, fatigue, anxiety and depression. I think I’m finally starting to understand why I’ve caught so many colds. The side effects of over-involvement have lifelong consequences that should not be ignored. To avoid these consequences, let’s reframe our perspective on our involvement.
You should only participate in activities that are important to you. Never do something just for your resume. At the same time, it’s important not to judge people who do a job they don’t like at all. Work is a necessity, and it is a privilege to assume that everyone can follow their wishes. In addition, the depth of the activities is just as important, if not more, than the breadth. Spend time immersing yourself in what you love instead of adding more half-hearted activities to your plate. Learn to set limits, even for the things you care about. Don’t let them consume you to the point of compromising your health. To engage in physical activity and practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress. Most importantly, take the time to make these adjustments – they don’t come naturally in a society that forces us to be as involved as possible. It took me years of soul searching and listening Michelle Obama’s podcast to convince me to change my habits. And, I still have a long way to go.
As students, society pushes us to be as involved as possible. It’s an easy culture to give in to college. But for your health and mental well-being, take care of yourself. Grind culture persists because we encourage it. As we adapt our mindset, this toxic culture can change. Your perfect balance will be different from that of your peers, but nonetheless, strive for that balance during your studies.