There are a lot of things about myself that I expected to change once I started college — more friends, better classes, less junk food (a delusion and a failure, I assure you) — but one thing I didn’t expect was my newfound addiction to checking my email.
Walking to class? Let me refresh my inbox. Waiting for a friend to get food? Let me sign up for this Farm Tour. Tired? Busy? Emails and more emails. Inbox addiction has become a sort of pandemic on this campus, to the point where the list of times at which people are checking their inboxes — while crossing the street, at Woads, in bed at 1 a.m. — spirals into absurdity. At the root of this addiction is a pervasive desperation, a fear that something is about to happen and we need to know about it now, now, NOW — because Yale doesn’t stop, and nothing matters more than our futures.
Right? Nothing matters more than school, right? Perhaps if I had enough time to think during the day, I would wonder a great deal more about that notion. But instead, I am constantly on the go, to the point that I wonder if my room needs anything more than a bed. And despite the nonstop productivity, sometimes I wonder if all I’m doing is running in place. Does it really matter if I get this fifth illustration done? Does it really matter if I rewrite my entire problem set to make it more legible? Does it really matter that XYZ applications are open and I don’t have a summer job yet, and also while I’m at it, why don’t I apply to these spring break programs? At some point, the privilege of 1000 opportunities becomes 1000 reasons to stay awake at night, an endless train of thought chugging through a 12-track mind.
Relatable? I’d like to take a moment to inform the reader that in some exclusive circles of psychologists, they call that feeling anxiety (with a side of insomnia).
My concern is not just for my own sanity — my concern is that all of Yale’s students are collectively losing their minds, and we’re the ones stealing each other’s marbles. This weekend, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude when a friend and team leader told me that she valued my happiness over my commitment to contribute to her team. It was jarring; it felt like I was hearing those words for the first time in my life. I thanked her, then tried to imagine myself saying the same thing in her position — I couldn’t, not without effort.
It was then, mulling over those simple words of compassion, that I realized: Yale culture, at its core, encourages a system of unforgiving accountability. We write passive-aggressive emails to our fellow club members for underperforming instead of asking if they’re feeling all right. We claim that our friends let us down for flaking or forgetting, without realizing that we’re holding them to the same impossible standards that we apply to ourselves. We neglect to remind our peers that they are human, not flawless machines designed for some rigid form of success — and even worse, we forget to remind ourselves. After all, to expect everyone to keep up and overperform in every aspect of their lives is unfair and unrealistic, even at Yale. It does not at all devalue hard work to simply view our classmates as fellow humans with real anxieties and overcommitments and flaws.
So, what does it all have to do with emails? Simple. I’m going to unpin my Gmail tab. I’m going to stop checking my emails every three minutes of the day. I’m going to protect myself from perfectionism by allowing myself to let things go, even just for a little while. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), those emails will still be there when I check two hours from now — and if those extra hours are too much for my peers, then perhaps I should use my extra time to re-evaluate why I even subject myself to those expectations. After all, it took me four semesters at Yale to become a compulsively productive college student. Now, it is my job to relearn how to value myself — the human, not the student — over my capabilities, my aspirations and the neatness of my Yale inbox.
Catherine Yang is a junior in Trumbull College. Her column runs monthly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .