Have you ever sat down to write an essay or finally get that assignment done and really could not be bothered to do it with your full attention? Congratulations. You are a normal college student. We all generally accept that there will be classes that we just care less about than others. There will also be times when school just takes the back seat to everything else in our lives. But I have to wonder why we also seem to have this culture of expecting everyone to give 100% to every single class and every single assignment.
Despite the fact that BS-ing and skimming is an everyday practice, I have often felt compelled to perform fascination and engagement on days when I really exist in a totally different headspace. I do my best to keep on task and focus — basically, to force myself to care in moments when I really do not. I personally find this to be a rather strange and sometimes even disturbing trend, but I also see no way around it.
In life, we often have to care about, focus on or give energy to things that we have no interest in, like bills and meetings and company retreats. So theoretically, you could argue that this is what college is setting us up to do: at least try to care about things we really do not care about. The only problem is that it sometimes feels as though in college there is not much of a point in trying to care. Good grades are fine, but your survival does not depend on an A in that one class. In fact, so long as you leave with a degree in your hand and have no intention of going to graduate school, there exists no real need to get higher than a passing grade. So why do we still do this game of pretend, putting effort into things that we actually care very little about?
The pessimist in me says that it must be because our society insists so much on our success that even when it has no impact on our survival, we still have to perform well. The optimist in me pipes up to suggest that it must be because we do all want to care, we are just sometimes impeded. The realist that I hope I am tells me that everyone just has their own motivations which are probably a mix of the above statements and many other reasons. But I do think that college is set up in such a way that we cannot help but reach endlessly for that better grade — a feat that requires us to pretend to care.
The fundamental problem that I have is that it seems to me like a block to natural growth rather than a bolster. Instead of fostering genuine interest in different topics and pushing us to be motivated by our own learning, we are often stuck in classes we have no interest in, faking rapt attention. The system rewards not true and genuine effort but the appearance of it, and college seems like a rather sad place for your life to be fake-it-till-you-make-it oriented.
I have no solution to this problem. I think it speaks to a broader and larger societal problem of obsession with achievement. But until the issue is resolved, I think it is safe to say that we should be able to take off our caring masks once in a while and allow ourselves to genuinely not care every so often.