“Why are you doing that?” I asked my friend as she prepared for a date party. “What? I don’t want my butt to look weird in this dress,” she responded. “Not the Spanx. Why are you going out tonight if you said you were exhausted?” That made her pause. She had not considered the motivation behind dragging herself out on a drizzling night so she could make small talk with intoxicated strangers about their majors and the weather before stumbling home in the chilly hours of the night. After a few seconds, her shapewear still strangling her thighs, she answered with a shrug that it was Friday night so it felt wrong to not go out. She was in college and “should live it up.”
That sent me on a quest to better understand this relentless compulsion to pursue experiences for the sake of experiencing them, even when they stop actually being enjoyable. Everyone on campus has borne witness to this phenomenon. We all have that amazing friend that makes the rest of us look more useless than male nipples by taking 18 credits, playing a sport, being a member of three clubs, writing symphonies and rescuing gifted orphans from Syria in the time left over. However, when asked to describe these activities, this Mother Teresa seems to perceive them as arduous tasks that have to be checked off some list.
It is not just a few outlying friends with superhuman motivation or a pathological need for validation that do this. Everyone is guilty of participating in some activity, club or class in order to pay homage to the lofty ideology of “living life,” “having fun,” “experiencing new things” or “bettering yourself.” Well, I am not having fun. I am tired of being chatted up by strange men at parties when I would much rather Netflix and chill by myself. I have no clue why I tried ballroom dancing, especially when I possess neither coordination nor class. Where does this pressure originate?
For me at least, it stems from the myth that college is supposed to be the best time of my life. Every movie, book or television show aimed at young adults depicts college as an amazing adventure filled with raging parties, existential epiphanies and lifelong friendship-making set to a catchy Mumford and Sons song. It has been built up as this place full of amazing opportunities and people that must be exploited to their fullest extent in the short amount of time that they are available. In addition, students are paying a massive amount of money for these incredible experiences. With those expectations and a limited time to meet them, it is no wonder that an intense pressure to maximize every second is pervasive across campus.
Unfortunately, college is still life. There are going to be a lot of moments that are average, even straight boring. Work still needs to get done. Our bodies and minds will always need rest. But this belief that every moment should be an action-packed learning experience is incongruent with that inescapable reality and therefore unhealthy. It must be realized that the negative effects of this mindset are not limited to college. When you graduate and start doing that weird adult thing, the itch to maximize will still be there. It is important to understand that there will always be a million things that you could be doing that seem better or more productive than what you are doing now. By transforming life into a series of tasks that must done to fulfill the obscure goal of “getting the most out life,” we ironically lose the pleasure of living. So next time you find yourself rushing through a series of events and activities, take a second to reflect on what is driving your behavior and ask yourself if you’re really having fun.
Emily Gardner is a Confusion Corner columnist who wants to “live it up” from the comfort of her own bed.