Being lonely at Lawrence and the weights of working

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Out of all my terms at Lawrence, this spring term has truly been one of the worst (at least so far). So many factors can explain it…not having (great) friends, not having any work-life balance, being slightly depressed and binge-watching Survivor on Hulu, etc etc etc. But why is this acceptable at a place like Lawrence? I mean, from day one, we’ve set the bar at “The Lawrence Busy” and “The Lawrence Difference,” but why does that mean we have to be overworked, depressed and lonely Lawrentians?  

I’m cynical and bitter already. But I want to use this piece to address the expectations that we be everything. This isn’t limited to Lawrence, nor the institution of higher education. But Lawrence culture literally feeds the flames by telling prospies that these are traits we should embody as Lawrentians (as a joke), all while having a ridiculously high cost of education. I have had to work since I was 15, and I currently have seven jobs at this school. On top of what I choose to do for fun, and what I am actually going to school to do, there is no way that I can truly focus on my education. Goodness, this is not to brag or to make you feel like you’re not doing enough; that’s the sick culture Lawrence has propagated within all of our institutional memories. I say this because I don’t know what it is like to be able to do every assignment in my three classes. I don’t usually feel like a student. I don’t feel appreciated for the work I do on the side. I am not truly learning as much as I would if I had my three classes and nothing else. 

Shouldn’t that frustrate all of us? Yes, we’re preparing ourselves for the real world, yes, now is our chance to make a difference within this university, yes, “we’re doing it because we want to!!” But be frustrated. I am. I wish I could be more of a student and less of a worker bee or extracurricular activities bee. But no, I’m “multi-interested” like the rest of us because that’s why we came here. 

I go to counseling. I even go to academic counseling. I have a great family and partner. But at times, I can’t help but see Lawrence as a place full of cliquey bubbles and judgemental people who are just set in their ways. How does one find a support system? Or get their friends to care? The pandemic has made it worse but so has apathy. So has becoming an upperclassperson. So has stress. 

Yes, there are moments where Lawrence seems like the greatest place to me, and that’s often when I think of fond memories and the good people and the love I’ve experienced here. But as a part of academia, and as an institution with so many recent wrongs committed, it’s hard to be naïve. I do know that once I graduate, exiting The Bubble is not going to solve these problems for me. I gently think of that without letting myself get too depressed, because I have to take it all as it comes, day-by-day. 

I urge you, Lawrentians, to stop being vessels for toxic sentiments. We are people first. We shouldn’t always be busy. Breaks are good, and we are not locked into ten weeks/three terms/four years of “The Lawrence Busy.” That is not sustainable. Of course, this is not our fault. It was something that we were all told as prospies. But it does exist in our culture here.  

How do we change it? Do we quit our jobs, our activities, our commitments, open our arms to friendships, time to complete schoolwork and free time? Who’s to say that we wouldn’t still complain? Even so, that still does not mean that we should accept it how it is here.  

Within your own lives, quit things that stop making you happy because they’re annoying or overbearing. That does not make you less of a successful, worthwhile human being. Keep things in your life, as Marie Kondo says, that “spark joy.” You’ll regret quitting those if you love them, but if you get rid of the most hated part of your week, I promise you’ll be a lot happier. 

Lawrence (and elsewhere) may have taught us that being busy makes us successful, but I argue that being able to quit things you dislike is the most empowering thing we can learn in college. Why should we live the rest of our lives like our college selves who couldn’t say no to things?  

As for friends, I am still lonely. I am still in search of such people. But at least I am learning how to be with myself here. It’s not enough, but maybe others feel that way too. Shall we call it “The Lawrence Lonely” and fix it soon, please?