"Sophomore" is vaguely Greek for "wise fool," and learning something has never made more sense to me than this.
At the beginning of this past fall semester (the start of my sophomore year in college), I sat down with the director of international relations at my college to discuss the past year and the year ahead. I mentioned to him that the amount of work I had taken on for myself was starting to feel disconcerting: three jobs -- totaling 40 hours a week, plus 12 hours of in-class time a week (I started off at 15 hours, but couldn't do it, so dropped a class), plus a demanding committee position. This schedule didn't really leave time for fun, or eating, or sleeping, or homework, and I was right to be scared: I ended up sick and sad all semester.
He told me that he sees this a lot among sophomores. They feel kind of invincible coming back after their freshman year, and just sign on for everything. I understood why other people might enter into a life like this, but those weren't my reasons. I told him that I had to work hard to pay for school, and that there was nothing I could drop, except the class. This, of course, was a twisted bit of irony, since class time was the impetus behind all these working hours. I left his office and went into the semester heavy laden.
Over the next few months, I had this same conversation with various professionals at school, including the acting provost. She told me something I already knew, but hadn't heard out loud: I was wasting all my time by failing to put any effort into all my work, because I had too much work. I finally acknowledged that this lifestyle is not sustainable. It is both unbearable -- I still have residual sinus and ear infections -- and irrational. I seemed to have lost all agency in my own life.
Nothing has ever made me feel so useless and aimless as attempting to do so many things and nearly failing at them all. Fall semester was possibly one of the unhappiest times of my life. People would ask how I was doing, and I would say that if I stepped back and looked at the broad picture of my life, I was happy, but the day to day was unbearable. Clearly, this means something was very wrong.
I write about this in the past tense, because fall semester is over, but spring will bring the same handful of trials. None of my commitments have faded away, and some of them are going to get harder. My approach, though, is going to be different. This semester, I'm committed to do the following things for myself, and for the quality of my work:
1. Schedule fun: I will roll down more hills with my friends.
2. Say no: I will ask for copies of my contracts and only do the work within my written responsibility.
3. Be present: When doing one task, I will only do that task, so that I can work wholeheartedly on it, even for just a short time.
4. Be healthy: I will take care of my body by eating when I need to, and by treating illness.
And then, when the semester ends, I will do the most important thing: I will quit.
I intend to leave behind the tasks that wore me down, but didn't reward me. I would like to finish them for the entirety of the semester, since I committed to them, but then I will stop.
At the start of fall semester, I foolishly thought that wise people do many things. I was such a sophomore. I thought that quitting any responsibility was weak, and I judged myself for entertaining the idea. Now, though, I realize that leaving behind all the taxing work won't be a sign of weakness; it will be the strongest thing I've ever done. I will have relinquished control in certain ways to gain it in others. I will gain back the agency I lost. I won't be a sophomore anymore, and I'll finally grow up.