How many times does a high school student on a Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program weekend hear the phrase cura personalis before beginning the process of becoming a zombie Hoya, rushing to Lauinger Library in order to finish a paper after a Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union networking event, preceded by a Goldman Sachs information session — itself preceded by an interest meeting for Students of Georgetown, Inc.?
We have strayed from the intended meaning of cura personalis and conflated it to mean check off all the boxes or you are screwed. Charlie Lowe (SFS ’16) and I, among many others, find ourselves inundated with the need to study, advance professionally, achieve leadership positions in clubs we find engaging, make friends and be social.
And how many times during New Student Orientation did new Hoyas hear that students like to be involved while living balanced lives, but how it was okay if you choose not to be involved? All the while, orientation advisors dispel the knowledge of running on less than five hours of sleep from the night before, amped up on burnt Corp coffee, pretending to be peppy for 12 hours a day in the hopes that their group of 11 students decide to apply to become OAs themselves.
There is a disconnect between perception and reality when dealing with Georgetown’s culture. Most students on campus are looking for a breadth of experiences rather than a few focused ones. We need to do away with this mentality, because it does not breed success as much as it does stress. The current system is also not an individual student’s fault, because it is an institutional issue. From the moment we arrive at Georgetown, we recalibrate our expectations of involvement.
Our advice is this: Choose your own path, embrace what you love to do and put aside what you can. If you feel during a semester that your academics are not offering you as much development as your extracurricular activities, it is alright to de-emphasize them and focus on the activities that are enriching you more.
We spoke to a friend of ours who was in the upper management of The Corp. The Corp was clearly his main focus, and he found value in all the time it took him to reach his high-level position, but he acknowledged he often set aside his studies in the process. While cramming material a week before exams detracted from his academic journey, he found meaning in the work he did, and there is intrinsic value in this manifesting these efforts as well as the mastery that comes with it. One needs not regret following such a path.
And when speaking to another friend of ours in Georgetown University Grilling Society, he mentioned how he loved GUGS insofar as the limited time commitments allowed him to focus on his studies, which he prioritized. These two individuals reinforced to us the importance of directing one’s energies where they can best be used and building an experience that fosters the most fulfillment.
It is okay to step away from something if it no longer suits your priorities or if you are unhappy. It is okay to be pragmatic when making choices rather than holding an overflowing bucket over your head. Let us abandon the pretense that everyone can do everything and still flourish. Let us recognize also the stark reality that mental health issues have become increasingly prevalent in our campus discourse. We should allocate more resources to help those who feel overwhelmed. Yet this still does not address systemic causes, only symptoms.
More broadly, life is not about checking off all the boxes but rather understanding and accepting that our decisions have tradeoffs. If I have an extremely demanding career, I may have to contend with fewer hours for my hobbies. If I choose to have a child, I might forego my ability to travel the world, drink with my college friends, engage in service and run a marathon in the same year. Our culture of overbooking can lead to habits and expectations of excess in later life, which is surely unsustainable. There is no need to dilute our efforts to such an end.
By dispelling this unrealistic notion that we can and should do everything, we need to re-evaluate what we think cura personalis really is. No longer should it be to accomplish the most activities and experiences in the most varied of settings. Going forward, we need to embrace a cura personalis mindset that lets us learn the most about ourselves in a context we find invigorating. Let us remember that this involves care for the whole person, which inevitably should urge us to be mindful of our own limitations.
Parth Shah is a senior in the College. Charlie Lowe is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Many Georgetowns appears every other Friday.