Taking four classes, working a part-time job (or two), engaging in three extracurriculars, applying for summer internships, study abroad programs and fellowships, maintaining a healthy social life and sleeping an adequate amount every now and then — sound familiar? In any context other than Yale, giving that answer to “so, what do you do?” would invoke a burst of laughter.
But within the confines of our beautiful, gothic brick walls and the mosaic of socially diverse individuals who carry exciting backstories and a broad range of interests on their sleeves, filling your daily schedule to capacity is not only unsurprising — it’s expected.
“Idleness is the mother of all sin.” This is what we were raised to believe, this is what we think of when we pile one activity onto the next, when we put ourselves to the grind of midterms season, when we work ourselves into giving anything and everything we have into making every second count. In the words of a person who I admire greatly: “Oh I see, you’re a maximizer.”
And that’s what most of us here at Yale are.
But, as Bertrand Russell said in his book “In Praise of Idleness” much more eloquently than I ever could: “What is needed in our very complex modern society is calm consideration, with readiness to call dogmas in question and freedom of mind to do justice to the most diverse points of view.”
At Yale, we often get so overwhelmed with the unlimited possibilities and opportunities that accost us daily that we forget that, while we’re here, we also need to figure out who we are. We need to give ourselves time to process all the new experiences we have collected, all the obstacles we have faced and all the challenges that lie ahead. We also need to figure out who we want to become, what we really crave and if the goals we’ve set are the ones we want to pursue. If we fill up our schedule from sunrise to midnight, how will we ever get a chance to do so?
We need to take a minute to stop and smell the roses: go apple picking at the Yale farm, plant a tulip at Berkeley’s annual event or just spend an evening having hot chocolate in our common room. We need to spend a Saturday afternoon starting at the ceiling, listening to old songs and wondering where our life is heading. We need to miss brunch on a Sunday morning because we’ve been drifting in and out of Morpheus’ arms, in that sweet intersection between slumber and reality. We need to wear a pair of mismatched socks on a Monday morning because we just couldn’t be bothered to track down those mysterious solitary socks that always get eaten away by the laundry machine.
I’m not trying to glorify indolence. This is not an ode to spending our precious time here stupefied in front of a laptop screen watching “Riverdale” for the next four years or skipping class because we can’t be bothered to “trek” all the way to Science Hill (although that struggle is very real). But sometimes, we do need a little bit of productive laziness in our life.
Because being lazy is not the opposite of being productive. Being lazy is essential to being productive. It is an opportunity for us to spend some quality time with ourselves. To stop and think about what happened in our day, to lie in bed trying to disentangle our own emotions from those of the people we surround ourselves with. To think about what’s happening in the world around us and how we want to engage, or not, with it. It is the time to choose which battles we want to fight and to search for the tools to do so.
Sometimes we need to learn to tame those unforgiving urges to do work, to improve, to excel. Sometimes we need to stop ourselves from being “maximizers.” Because, maybe, in asking ourselves why we have this need to always do more, we’ll finally find the courage to be lazy. If we challenge the obsession with being relentlessly engaged, we might perhaps discover the hardest thing to do is to do nothing at all.
Being idle and doing nothing is the opposite of exciting. It’s boring.
But maybe that’s the point.
Sophia Catsambi | firstname.lastname@example.org