Busy. In today’s culture, it’s more than a state of being; it’s an emotion, it’s an action, it’s a symbol of value and achievement. We feel that being busy is the only way to live our lives, and we become anxious without the pressure of another task at hand. It’s a toxic culture that pressures us to bite off more than we can chew and positions mental health as reactionary. Busy culture stifles the American mind while pressuring us to do more. As a society, we must choose to reform it.
This weekend, I broke down. As the president of the Student Governance Council, a member of Park Design House, a student and a volunteer, I’ve chosen to put a lot on my plate. For a while, these roles have been a constant weight on my shoulders and although rewarding, the tasks have put my mental health on hold. People I am closest to told me to take care of myself, but none had the power or ability to tell me I could neglect my obligations. I haven’t been taking care of myself.
At Ithaca College, the same busy culture I felt this weekend exists within my fellow students. As I walk to class, I listen as friends and acquaintances complain about how busy they are. It’s a habitual reaction to express these feelings, hidden with an underlying fear of not being busy. The expectation on college campuses is that students should take 18 credits, get a 4.0, do extra-curricular activities, take on leadership roles, do community service and have a job to pay for it all. We pack our schedules so tightly that there is little time to unwind.
Individual busyness also hurts the whole college community. Students have no time to engage with administration, attend events, go to sports games or even hang out on campus. A walk around the college on the weekend serves as evidence to this. It’s desolate, and the only students around are either working or practicing.
At the core of the issue lies an assumption that success and growth are synonymous with “busy.” Society tells us that hard work looks like a constant push, and without it, we will not be successful, intelligent or hirable. As student body president, I know that if I appear to be relaxing or not immediately responding to emails, my peers will think I am not working hard to improve the college. I don’t regret taking on this position or wish to lessen the goals I have set to accomplish. I do, however, need to learn to manage expectations.
Despite what some may inherently believe, students can accomplish a lot by setting personal boundaries and putting in effort. It is reasonable to set a “48-hour rule” for emails and to reserve one day a week to relax and reflect.
Students should also embrace flexibility and exploration. For many freshmen students, it’s instinctual to sign up for seven clubs and commit to all of them. We must encourage our peers to find the few things they truly love to do and stick with them. Leaders on campus must also set reasonable expectations of their groups and boards. More importantly, leaders need to set the example.
As a community, we can challenge the idea that we all must be overly busy. We have wonderful education surrounding mental health, but unless it is paired with encouraging reasonable workloads, burnout will continue to be a casual norm at Ithaca College. If we can accomplish this, then I believe that the culture at the college will change for the better.