“Are you doing anything else besides mock trial?”
She — a fellow freshman, a friend — lobbed the question across the dining hall table. The query had veins of scorn and speculation.
“Sure,” I countered, “I have a job at which I work daily and an internship.”
“Right, but I mean any other extracurriculars?” As if my other endeavors didn’t suffice.
I paused, thought. I could supply her the list of less demanding commitments I’ve made since the extracurricular fair during Camp Yale: Dems meetings, voter registration drives, submissions to various campus publications, participation in an on-campus storytelling group. Instead, I defended my primary obligation.
“You know, mock trial could almost be considered a fifth class, especially in the weeks leading up to a tournament. We even have our own Classes*v2 page,” I added.
In various forms, this conversation has followed me throughout my time at Yale: seemingly innocent inquiries about extracurricular involvement, raised eyebrows in response and then a lengthy list of my peer’s engagements. I listen, smile, nod and think to myself: “Did they not listen to their deans during orientation? Did the speeches warning against over-commitment pass unnoticed?”
Listen to your dean. Do less. It seems counterintuitive, I know. Many of us, participants in and products of the competitive college application process, came to Yale accustomed to the inverse relationship of resume length to free time. And now that we find ourselves standing on the stage for which we have rehearsed throughout high school, the equation should follow that we enhance the interests and activities that brought us here.
While theoretically appealing, that logic has little practical worth. New experiences and knowledge remain at the core of a college education. But without time to digest those experiences and synthesize that knowledge, without time to sleep and care for an active mind, how can we succeed?
At the extracurricular bazaar this year, I passed a table on which girls sat cross-legged and barefooted, surrounded by books on poetry and botany, painting their toenails. They ignored the chaos around them, and though they did not speak, their sign did for them, reading something to the effect of: “FREE TIME: the ultimate extracurricular.” I did not stop to talk to these girls. They did not have a sign-up sheet (Why would they?). But they had a point — one I probably failed to comprehend until I experienced a semester of Yale myself. Endless extracurriculars dilute the potency of our experiences and diminish our capacity for understanding them. They stray us from our aims and consume our free time — time in which we could be living.
Yalies must stop feeling pressured to do so much. That begins with us not being as concerned about the activities of others. We often are curious and concerned about what others do. But too often curiosity deteriorates to condescension and the comparison of extracurricular lists. During the first weeks of the fall semester, Rumpus ran a satirical piece with the headline: “NO ONE GIVES A FUCK ABOUT YOUR SAT SCORES.” The writers considered that the primary lesson for the Class of 2018. Yet while we readily dismiss SAT score comparison as trivial and annoying, we continue to size up each other’s activities with little hesitation. The eye-roll-inducing intellectual squabbling that comes with score comparison seems akin to evaluating each other’s extracurricular engagements.
The next time someone asks you “Is that it?” in response to your list of extracurriculars, challenge them. Is the length of the list of activities really so important? Is how few minutes of peace and clarity you enjoy really a source of pride? Is it all really worth such concern and scorn? The next time someone asks you “Is that it?” evaluate your current list. Do these activities challenge you intellectually and socially? Do they bring you joy? Condense those that don’t, expand the rest and then smile and nod. “Yes, that’s it.”
Phoebe Petrovic is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.