Navigating the balance between self and success

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

With the school year beginning this week, new chapters in many of our lives are also beginning, and with new chapters come new choices. As a fourth-year, decisions concerning my post-graduation plans are looming. Going to graduate school, entering the workforce or taking a gap year are all enticing options. But there are two questions I am frequently asked when considering which way to go: “What do you think is the best option?” and “What do you want to do?” Both are valid questions, but how I navigate answering them has pushed me to reconsider my priorities. 

These two questions uniquely represent the way we weigh our priorities. We are in a position where we have to choose between what we think we should do and what we want to do. In this case, what we theoretically should do is pitched as what is academically optimal, strategically best or fits the societal description of success. What we actually want to do presents as hobbies, side jobs or other activities we are passionate about. We like to draw lines to separate the ‘ideal’ and ‘desired’ answers.  

I would argue that both are important to consider in decision-making. 

Now, some of you might read this and think, “that’s painfully obvious.” And you would be right. However, it’s surprising how easy it is to forget one of the two perspectives when we are under pressure. Attending the Student Activities Fair (SAF) this year quickly reminded me of that. I had several conversations with underclassmen intrigued by various interest groups, clubs and teams that they stumbled upon during the fair or through Case Western Reserve University’s list of student groups. But even with heavy interest, many expressed hesitancy in joining organizations and clubs. When I asked them why, the consistent answer was, “I don’t have time.”

“I don’t have time” is a valid reason to decide not to take on a task or join a group, regardless of if it’s personal or professional. But when we say we don’t have time, it’s important to assess why that is. We all have the same amount of time in the day, and so when we don’t have time for one task, it’s because we are allocating that time somewhere else. Therefore, when you say you don’t have time for a stress-free activity in your week, it’s because you’ve decided to spend that time on something different. 

You weigh the “ideal” choice against the “desired” choice with every decision or responsibility. In a vacuum, there is no correct answer. Picking either choice repeatedly will not guarantee long-term success or happiness. However, that’s why it’s important to take a step back and evaluate your previous decisions in order to find a way to balance the ideal and the desired in a healthy way. 

For some, allocating a large amount of time to recreational activities can make other responsibilities feel overwhelming. On the other hand, allocating almost all of one’s time to academic activities and responsibilities doesn’t leave much time for leisure or personal interests. This circumstance is a bit harder to remedy, as it’s heavily linked to the overachiever mindset that lies in our campus culture. Seeing others hold multiple positions or overload on credits can create pressure, making us feel like we aren’t doing enough. Therefore, in the effort to do the same, we lose time to pursue the hobbies and interests that make us happy and distinguish ourselves.

Sometimes, I feel like I have to remind myself that there is life beyond building a resume. I should not make every decision in my life around maximizing my chances of getting into a graduate school if it means losing the things that bring me joy and make me who I am. Having activities for myself also allows me to destress and relax in the midst of a hectic life, inadvertently helping my academic life. Leisure is integral to preventing burnout.

 The best case scenario is finding activities that are both ideal and desired. I was lucky enough to find Mock Trial. The activity is fun because of the performance component, but also academic because it pertains to being a pre-law student and builds public speaking skills. It may not always be easy to find, but there are many intersections between what is enjoyable and productive. Whether you’re still deciding on a major, trying to figure out what clubs to join or navigating the next steps to take after graduation, it’s possible to find a balance. All it takes is some time and energy. When you find that equilibrium, I promise you’ll find it very rewarding.