{ My Least Favorite }

Every time I encounter a prospective student visiting campus I am asked the inevitable question, "What is your least favorite thing about Oberlin?" It is routine for me to laugh while I think through the most recent interactions I have had on campus. Each semester something new happens that allows me to identify things about Oberlin's culture that affect me.

More and more I am noticing a particular kind of drain that is affecting quite literally everyone here and that is my least favorite thing about Oberlin. Emily, an Oberlin Blog alum, wrote this amazing post called "The Culture of Busyness: My Least Favorite Thing about Oberlin" as a brief but important discussion about Oberlin's pressure-pit like tendencies. I read it at a point where my own investment in being busy took physical tolls on me and I was in the process of re-evaluating my priorities.

Not-so-secretly, I have been wanting to re-open Emily's discussion. I want prospective students to know that college, in general, is draining! It is imperative that you have an active plan for the holistic nature of caring for yourself. Even then, your plan can fail to meet your needs. In this moment, you join the rest of us who are drained, exhausted and looking for a break seemingly where there is none. My interest here is in working through some of Emily's thoughts and adding a few of my own as well.

So, What to Call It?

In thinking about possible origins of this culture Emily writes, "I'm not the first person to talk about this. Ma'ayan has attributed it to FOMO, the fear of missing out. Alison (another Oberlin Blogger) has called it "the romanticization of commitment" while Emily calls it a culture of busyness. I call it the pledge of ambitiousness.

I agree with all of these understandings. Certainly, there is an invisible force at work nudging everyone to go to every concert, lecture, performance, workshop, teach-in and everything else in between to feel like they are getting the full college experience. The fear of missing out is rooted in this irrationally rational belief that the day when all the knowledge is dropped or the most transformative moment of life itself will happen when you are not there.

When we hold on to that idea, then what Alison is talking about happens--we romanticize being overcommitted. We praise people for holding it together and getting no sleep but still being chipper. We celebrate ambition, or what would we could even call chronic overcommitment. When the foundation that holds up this culture of overcommitment, ambition and busyness begins to crack, we as a campus, as individuals, as communities, begin to see the devastating ways that we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves just to be busy and "productive."

The Limits of HHYB

A lot of the drain Obies experience stems from pure overcommitment--too many people are incredibly ambitious and motivated, far too talented and have peers, mentors and connections to other folks who are just as amazing as they are. What this means for time is a lot of interactions can become transactional if we are not careful. Instead of genuinely checking-in with one another, cancelling that meeting that really could wait or taking space for ourselves to feel/cry/yell/sleep/eat and what have you, we often reduce our interactions to the Hey, how are you?... Bye! or HHYB.

Emily summarizes well, "If you ask an Oberlin student how they're doing on an average day, they'll almost certainly tell you they're some combination of tired, stressed, and/or busy. I hear variations on, 'I'm tired,' 'I'm kinda stressed,' and 'I'm so busy,' that they barely even register as meaningful responses anymore." I think this kind of exchange is intended to be cordial but because of the incessant time press that is on everyone from students to faculty and staff, a lot of times this brief toss of words happens in moments of passing and becomes meaningless.

The HHYB is endemic. So many of us can only spare minutes to say hi to someone we have not seen in weeks. A lot of my peers are giving people major life updates and apologies for being missing in action on Facebook because there is no other convenient way to tell people. I have even told people they will not see me around unless it is at work or class or en route to those places. As a result, stress is a major issue on campus and after seven semesters of trying to get a handle on it, I still do not have the perfect solution for it.

New Possibilities & Old Responsibilities

I think it is important for this post to come to a close with a level of connectivity to even broader discussions. Mental health and wellness are significant, y'all. Not just in college but in life. Responsibilities do not necessarily go away but the means by which we get them accomplished and how we nurture ourselves can make all the difference.

There are multiple ways to "self-care" both alone and in community. I think that is a unique experience that receives a lot of influence from the interactions we all have with different people, spaces and stressors. As I write this post, I am thinking about all the other work I can (and should be) doing, but I also realize that writing is something of value to me in a transformative way that will give me the focus and relief to do my required work.

I encourage folks reading this to find the things worth saying no to--checking emails past a certain time, a meeting that can wait a few days, an event that maybe you do not actually need to co-coordinate--and start there.

Then, identify the things worth saying yes to--what sustains you? What makes you smile? What makes you laugh? Build these things into your day, into your week. If you need a reward system, create one. If you need to tell friends and family to give you a week to just sort through life, do that. We are all trying to figure it out and that is okay!

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{ Responses To This Entry }

I definitely agree with you Alex! In my short time here at Oberlin, one of the most valuable lessons I've learned is how to say "no" without feeling remorseful, guilty, or as if I'm letting someone down. Sometimes there truly isn't enough time in the day, so prioritizing becomes that much more crucial.


Posted by: Kameron on November 7, 2015 1:11 PM

Thank you for this post; this for sure needs to be an ongoing conversation at Oberlin. It's imperative we all make time to prioritize our needs and desires.

Ditto, Kameron. Preach.

Posted by: Calley on November 8, 2015 7:44 PM

Calley, thank you so much for reading. I definitely agree with you this is an ongoing conversation that I want to see more people writing/talking/spilling feelings about. It's necessary in a very immediate way.

Posted by: Alexandria Cunningham '16 on November 9, 2015 11:42 AM

Thanks Kameron! Honestly, if you have picked up that invaluable life lesson in less than a full semester you are ahead of the curve for real. I'm so happy that you realize that and keep hold of that bit of insight... there will be days when you forget it.

Posted by: Alexandria Cunningham '16 on November 9, 2015 11:44 AM

I'm so glad to see this conversation is continuing on the blogs. Also, HYYB is the realest. I love the way you phrased this, "So many of us can only spare minutes to say hi to someone we have not seen in weeks. A lot of my peers are giving people major life updates and apologies for being missing in action on Facebook because there is no other convenient way to tell people." When I found out about my Fulbright, I decided to wait to post it on facebook so I could tell the important people in my life in person. I couldn't believe how long that took! I'm not sure how long it was exactly, but definitely more than a week. I was shocked. It forced me to reckon with how little time my friends and I were making for each other in a really uncomfortable way.

(And thanks for calling my post amazing, that's very nice of you.)

Posted by: Emily on November 15, 2015 10:44 AM

Thanks for reading Emily! I'm equally happy to see this conversation continue because, among so many other things, it is of immediate importance.

Congrats on your Fulbright by the way! I'm not doing anything as major as that but I am applying to graduate school and I'm trying my best to tell people in person or some more direct way than a mass Facebook post but you're right, it's hard. Sometimes I barely have time to keep my immediate family up to speed--so I totally understand what you mean.

You are very welcome!

Posted by: Alexandria Cunningham '16 on November 15, 2015 11:25 AM

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