When I first arrived on campus, I joined several different organizations. I signed up for the Yale College Democrats, the Yale College Council, several campus publications and many other panlists that I have since forgotten. Although I didn’t admit it at the time, I was a small fish, now in a very big pond, hungry for anything that could make me swim a little more confidently. I eagerly swallowed the bait that dangled at the extracurricular bazaar in search of a way to validate myself and my interests.
After all, that’s how organizations advertise themselves: Are you interested in politics? Join the Yale Political Union. Are you interested in international relations? The Yale International Relations Association is the place for you! Given that both of these organizations call themselves the largest one on campus, it seems like I’m not the only one who believed the narrative, who sought to certify a passion by signing up for a panlist, dedicating hours to a group, hoping to attain a leadership position. To be fair, for a few students, that extracurricular pathway is a testament to genuine interest.
However, although many of us channel ourselves into the groups who clamor loudly in Payne Whitney Gym, they are not the only, let alone the best, way to spend time at Yale meaningfully. Over the last two semesters, I have largely dropped most of the reputable, organized, institutional activities that I signed up for in my first year. I have never excitedly anticipated a meeting, whether it is generously heaped with snacks or scheduled precisely on an agenda — so I figured that I would minimize their presence in my life.
Simply stated, dropping these commitments has both allowed me time to better explore my interests, and made me a happier person. I finally had the opportunity to focus on my academics, immersing myself in readings and giving my papers and problem sets more attention. I had more time to read different things, from trashy romance novels and analytical books to short articles in The Economist. I could get meals and have conversations with friends without having to leave for an evening meeting that I’d largely fidget my way through. Freeing myself of the clutter of campus groups actually gave me the clarity and space I needed to truly consider what I cared about, what I wanted to study and what I’d like to do with my life.
Around me, though, I’ve often heard both close friends and acquaintances complain loudly about the organizations they’re involved with. The politicking of obtaining leadership positions seems to be a constant emotional stressor, frustration with free riders is apparent in numerous finsta posts and, far too often, hours spent dedicated to an extracurricular force us to make tradeoffs; we sacrifice time that we would normally spend on relationships and relaxation, unstructured intellectual or emotional exploration. Students overstretch themselves by taking on multiple responsibilities across several clubs, seemingly unable to say no to additional commitments that stress and exhaust them in an effort to obtain either more social capital or another line on a resume. Too often, they do it because the entire school is swimming in the same direction.
Instead, I hope everyone can take a step back and think about what we dedicate our time to — especially the groups that we’ve chosen to define us. I hope we can make space to pursue our quirky, individual hobbies or simply spend more time on developing ourselves as individuals.
There are many things I enjoy at Yale: baking in the Davenport kitchen with my suitemates, engaging conversations in my common room, Saturday morning runs to East Rock. Sometimes, when I manage to wake up early, I bask in the few peaceful hours before the world comes alive, sitting in my room with a cup of hot tea and listening to instrumental guitar as I actually do some readings. Occasionally, I even enjoy working through the nitty gritty of a problem set, relishing the moment when moving parts come together into an answer.
None of these are scheduled on a When2meet, and I like it better that way.
Liana Wang is a sophomore in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .