Whenever I find myself in a professor’s office hours or chatting with adults, they usually ask something along the lines of, “How’s your semester?” I’ve found that one of the first things out of my mouth is typically, “busy,” or, “busy, but better busy than bored, I guess.” Either way, I include being busy.
I’ve generally found the same to be true of interactions with peers; everyone on this campus is busy. Not only are they busy, though, they want you to know they’re busy. Because if you aren’t busy, what exactly are you doing? If you have four extra hours in your Wednesday afternoon, why aren’t you using them to do research with a professor or to prepare for the MCAT? If you’re managing your commitments and stress easily, why aren’t you pushing yourself to your limits? Why get eight hours of sleep a night when you can get five? After all, people who work at JP Morgan or go to Yale Law are over committed, stressed and sleep deprived. Shouldn’t we prepare ourselves for the next phase of our lives?
In some sense, we should. A Georgetown education is an investment of nearly a quarter-million dollars, and we should want it to pay off. And while I firmly believe that the most important development that occurs in college is personal as opposed to pre-professional, I’m not naive enough to think it doesn’t often come down to GPA and resume after graduation. Because most employers and graduate schools are interested in candidates who can juggle a heap of tasks, being busy as an undergraduate makes sense.
Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that practical pre-professional preparation is all that’s going on. More perniciously, it seems that being busy is a form of status on this campus — a measure of how good you are at Georgetown-ing. The more effectively you navigate the pressure to be busy future members of the upper-middle class, the more status you have. But where there is status, of course, there is also exclusion. By labeling ourselves as busy go-getters, we are identifying as part of the winning group; it’s a subtle, if unwitting, way of setting ourselves above our peers. The problem is that we reinforce the capitalist treadmill in our day-to-day lives in unhealthy ways: Productivity goes hand-in-hand with competition.
On the other hand, however, we don’t always excel at efficiency, which is puzzling because efficiency is a large part of what employers are seeking. An interesting consequence of this competition to be busy is that it exacerbates our already poor time management. Because we strive to overextend ourselves, we’ll spend nine hours in the library — two or three of them surfing the Web or returning to Midnight MUG yet again. Nonetheless, the next day, we’ll complain about having been up until 3 a.m. writing a paper, playing into our tendency to overstrain ourselves in the name of dedication.
I’m always struck when I hear people say that the Hilltop isn’t a particularly competitive campus. Academically, perhaps it isn’t; you don’t hear the classic stories about students tearing pages out of library books to give themselves the upper hand. Pressure to win the rat race at Georgetown, however, is still acute. Surely, one of the best stereotypes of Georgetown students is our dedication to engaging with the world and our interests. I’m simply saying we should do a better job of keeping ourselves from going overboard. Who knows? Being less busy might actually make us more efficient and more employable.
What really matters, I think, is that we challenge ourselves and pursue our passions while still leaving space for self-care and leisure. That way, the next time a professor asks me how the semester is going, I don’t have to bore him or her with the fact that, like everyone else, I’m “busy.”
Nicholas Dirago is a senior in the College. CURMUDGEON’S CORNER appears every other Tuesday.