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Tennis ’14: Do more by doing less

Opinions Columnist
Monday, October 8, 2012

College provides a great opportunity to learn from your peers as well as your professors. Every day, I am impressed by the thoughtfulness and eloquence of my fellow students, and I feel truly honored to attend a school where the student body is contemplative and involved. “Getting involved” is certainly not something Brown students struggle with – newbie first-years descend onto campus with dreams of start-ups, stardom, scientific discoveries and saving the world.
Shopping period is step one. The activities, community service and internship fairs are step two. And then come applications, auditions, information sessions and general body meetings. Soon, Brown students find themselves engaged in a variety of extra-curriculars while juggling a course load that is usually too ambitious and too career-focused.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m anti-pre-professionalism and pro-open curriculum in its most “open” form. And I’m here to tell you something that many of you – and possibly your parents, too – don’t particularly want to hear.
Do less.
Stay with me for a moment. I know you are super busy and probably don’t even have enough time to read the entirety of this article, but that is exactly why you should. You’re probably doing too much and, as a result, accomplishing too little. Since you are a Brown student, I have no doubt that you are highly capable and enthusiastic. But every now and then it’s a good exercise for all of us to take stock of our activities, evaluate and prioritize. Knowing what aspects of your life are truly rewarding and worthy of your time is a precious skill that the most talented individuals often lack. But it’s crucial for success.
Do you constantly volunteer yourself for tasks but end up pulling out or delegating them to others at the very last minute? Do you belong to an organization on campus, but haven’t attended a meeting since the first week of classes? Are you on so many listservs that you routinely click “mark as read” just to filter your e-mail to a more manageable level?
I don’t mean to offend the ambitious. I just want you to think about your choices, and particularly, to identify if you have become that person. You know. A flake. We all know one – probably more than one – and we hesitate to give responsibility to or make plans with them. Something will inevitably come up. Because sometimes the celebrated adage, “if you want something done, ask a busy person,” just isn’t true.
If you want to call yourself a member of a club, it’s not enough to sign your name on a sheet. If you want to support a cause, it’s not enough to “like” its page on Facebook. You have to attend meetings. Regularly. You have to plan events. And actually show up to them. I’m sick of hearing people say, “It’s just been a crazy week” or, “I totally forgot I had agreed to do this, that or the other.” We’ve all been recipients of the text pleading unforeseen workloads or mysterious forgotten meetings.
I’m guilty of this as well. And really, it’s okay to get overwhelmed and cancel plans at the last minute. Once in a while, that is. But too often students get commitment-happy. While volunteering is a fantastic concept in general, it fails to serve any positive purpose when a volunteer is “too busy” to fulfill his or her duties.
This problem isn’t even a new one. Two Wyoming educators wrote in 1936 that “some (students) have so many duties to perform that they neglect almost all of them.” Psychology studies on workplace productivity have proved the existence of this phenomenon. When people have too much to do, they become stressed and sleep-deprived, and their health suffers. The result? Less gets done.
When you stretch yourself in multiple directions for multiple causes simultaneously, the benefits you provide to each decrease. Even worse, others will begin to label you as a flake, which might cause them to reduce your responsibilities and cease to welcome your participation. But limit yourself to a very few choice activities and your contributions are felt more strongly and more positively. As a result, you feel more fulfilled than you would by taking on additional obligations. It’s better to be reliable than flaky.
So get some sleep. Meet a friend at Jo’s. Plan out your work. Then take your name off some listservs and politely quit a few activities. By doing less, you might actually accomplish more.

Maggie Tennis ’14 turned in this article late, and she realizes just how ironic that is.

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  1. So true. Overcommitted and flaky.

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