This time of year is always a heart-warming testimony to the upper bounds of human hope and naivety, especially after winter break has buried the memories of last semester’s suffering. What I most adore is our collective high from New Year’s resolutions that still seem feasible. This is the year: You’ll go to the gym, I’ll stop wasting two hours with John Oliver before I go to bed and Mitch McConnell will finally figure out how to shape his little turtle mouth like a human being. Change seems so palpable at the beginning of the year, and I would like to take this time to make a proposal for a campus-wide resolution before the gloom of never-ending midterms sets in. Of course, the potential for a New Year’s resolution failure is very real to me, but I feel like this initiative is too important to not try. William and Mary, it’s time to pull ourselves out of Swem, stop procrastinating with the homework for our “easy” course, and actually reform the “twamp” mentality once and for all, as we have been promising to do for years.
Oh yeah, that thing. Changing the twamp mentality has been a goal of ours for how long? And yet, I already hear the hollow, tinny echoes of bragsplaining reverberating through the asbestos-lined halls of my dorm. The nonchalantly dropped words, “I didn’t really do anything for break. I was just really busy reading like 1000 pages for my sociology class and wrote a lot of job apps. I think I’m already going to have to pull an all-nighter” fell into my airspace just the other day. I was shocked to be bombarded so early with this epitome of the festering stress culture we passively condone.
This all sounds lovely, like quitting Netflix cold-turkey, or communism, but it won’t just magically happen.
There is nothing wrong with being busy. Most people prefer to be busy. They might even electrically shock themselves if left alone in an empty room with no other form of stimulation because it is better than being bored. I find that I am happiest when busy and, let’s be honest, most of us choose this school for its academic rigor and exciting challenges, even though it can be stressful. The true issue is our perspective and response to this stress (that and the complaining, which I am of the opinion is a poor conversational habit and lacking in imagination). William and Mary would not be the same if it weren’t hard, and it is hard, so we will always be stressed. What we can change is how we decide to react and frame that stress. My vision for all of the little green-clad twamps of the future is that they will move from our destructive tailspin of despair, negativity and type-A self-harm and begin to approach their overwhelming workload with a bit more humor, optimism and self-forgiveness. I know Obama is out of office, but he didn’t take all the hope and change with him and I can’t help but hope that our student body won’t be this way forever.
This all sounds lovely, like quitting Netflix cold-turkey, or communism, but it won’t just magically happen. We will need to turn to the teachings of cognitive behavioral training and mindfulness. The twamp mentality stems from a negative thought pattern in which we automatically engage. Being stressed out and working too hard is often a protective mechanism. By resorting to stress culture, we can point to our personal misery and hard work as evidence against our culpability if we fail. Further, we don’t have to lead our lives intentionally or make defining decisions. The right thing to do is always to be working and stressing. It’s our safest option, and therefore the default for our striving student body. But defaults can change. If we start to become more self-aware and monitor when we start to slip into the negative mindset, we can pull out of the tailspin before it’s too late. It is as easy or as difficult as actively choosing not to engage in that pattern of thought and redirecting ourselves to the positive. Just as a practitioner of Buddhism learns to accept the suffering of life with serenity, this school of brilliant and beautiful people can learn to accept the stress of our school without allowing it to impede our happiness or resorting to self-soothing bad habits. Instead of spewing our stress through involuntary rants about sleep-deprivation, we can make the conscious decision to fight our negative thoughts and take the incremental steps needed to lead truly fulfilling lives.
Maybe this is an unrealistic goal. I might still be blinded by the New Year’s glow. Speaking to the difficulty, I am actively combatting the deep anxiety and insecurity I have about completing this week’s to-do list as I write this. The quote from the first paragraphs, the one I disparaged for dirtying my pretty brain space, was actually something I said after my first winter break. I’m guilty. I wish every time I’m asked how I’m doing I could respond with a snappy fact about fugu instead of giving into the easy lure of negativity. I wish I could give a report of my individual status that paid homage to who I am, not what I must do. Leading authentic and sustainable lives is important; we at least need to try, especially amongst the turmoil of 2017. If you’ll keep me honest, I’ll do the same.