Columns / Discourse / October 14, 2015

Staying calm in a chaos culture

Most evenings, I make a to-do list. This Sunday, for instance, holds, in this order: a meeting with peers for a class, an interview for TKS, the transcription of that and other interviews, writing at least one (but preferably two) articles, a meeting with my co-TA and professor for an FP section, an executive board meeting for a club, an hour which might include dinner, the weekly TKS budget meeting and then whatever homework I can get done before I hold a rehearsal for my piece in the upcoming Terp show.

Let’s remember that this is a weekend.

To be fair: I am a senior in college. To be more clear on that point: I have the enormous privilege of being able to hold four jobs at once by choice, because they’re not needed financially to get me through school at a private, liberal arts institution. I applied to be on the exec board and took on the TA position fully aware of the requisite time commitments because I care about those causes and believe I’ll gain valuable experience through each. Dancing feeds my body and my soul; no matter the hours, I’ve discovered it to be fundamentally crucial to my happiness and thus, worth it. I fit in time for friends, because Knox is the reason I have many of them.

I fit in time for chores, because laundry and dishes and sweeping are tedious but necessary. And here’s the catch, the sticky thing I run into time and time again: Academics are the last thing on every list I make, even (if not especially) as a senior in college.

To say that I “blame” Knox for my packed schedule is partially true. When I give tours I regularly and accurately cite the trimester system and the work-ethic culture at Knox for motivating my transition from conveniently-bright high school slacker to booked-to-the-minute college Dean’s Lister. And, in almost every way, I’m thankful to Knox for that. I feel prepared for almost any professional challenge because I am a master at juggling responsibilities, at least for 10 weeks at a time.

But where do our campus-wide calls for advocacy and self-care fit into the mix? Because if busyness were a contest, I can think of at least 10 of my peers who would be beating me. That’s saying nothing of the students who, both in and out of the classroom, are doing this work not by choice but because they have to, be it due to financial circumstances or familial expectations or other, even more complex circumstances.

Whereas I, gifted by relatively wealthy, consistently supportive, white parents, choose to participate in this chaos culture for no good reason besides that I can.

There are academic institutions across the United States and elsewhere whose rigorous climates are reported to spark nervous breaks, anxiety, depression, even suicide in their students. Knox is not one of them. And yet it is the unusual Knox student whose eyes do not go saucer-round with mild panic at the question, “So when are you free this week?”

When you get a group of intelligent, quirky, empathetic individuals together on a small campus, it stands to reason that they’d become motivated, feeding off one another’s energy to create and be active.

It stands to reason that they’d find some things to do. But, as we each stare at our ever-growing to-do lists and assemble our Google Calendars, I’d urge every frenzied Knox student to examine the potential relationship between the tension in their shoulders and the number of hours during each day when they’ve got nothing to do. I’d urge each one of us to sit down, to sit still, and to ask: What do I actually need to get done?

It might be homework. As a creative writing major, I’m lucky to often be able to access stress relief while also being academically productive, so while I may be working on an essay for my nonfiction class, I’m also practicing self-care.

Academics so often fall to the bottom of our lists because homework typically exists on such a different timeline than do most other activities.

But the thing you need might be a candy bar to bring with you to class. It might be a walk. It might be an email to your boss about cutting down your hours next week. Because while we do participate daily in a chaos culture that values almost everything else over sleep, we do so on a campus filled with personal empathy.

Much of our chaos is self-motivated and enabled by the myriad opportunities for involvement offered here at Knox. We are surrounded by other humans who are just as busy and frazzled as we are.

We have to learn that our identities as humans, tired, fallible, sleep-needing humans, can sometimes trump our identities as employees, TAs, tutors, club-members, students.

But we’re all looking at our schedules with similar stress, for similar reasons, which we would know if we were better at reaching out and saying, “I need to take a step back.” Knox advertises its “human-powered experience.”

Let’s reclaim our humanity.


Carly Taylor, Staff Writer

Tags:  academics chaos culture extracirriculars Knox motivation

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