The first week of this term, the Lawrence student body was hit with the news that starting next year, the incoming class would have to pay extra to overload academically. For reasons I won’t get into, I’m afraid that the controversy over my column that week overshadowed the overload issue, at least in terms of the facebook activity on **The Lawrentian website**. Nonetheless, there undoubtedly was a strong student reaction against the institution of such fees within the student body.
I totally agree with this — it’s completely contrary to my vision of Lawrence for the administration to be taking it upon themselves to make overloading discouraged on a financial basis. However, Jill Beck was quoted as concurring with Dean Burrows in the sentiment that “As Burrows put it, ‘the perceived stress levels’ at Lawrence have contributed to a growing concern about university programming.”
What I want to capitalize on here is the word “perceived.” That being said, I’m going to go the long way about doing so.
Here at Lawrence it is undeniable that we foster a culture where overloading, be it academically, extracurricularly, otherwise or preferably all three, is highly valued, and not just by the administration, but by peers.
While our student body is of course not perfectly homogenous in this and contains a full spectrum within our narrow community, generally Lawrence students are type A overachievers who succeeded academically, but perhaps also athletically and — even more improbably — socially during high school. (Ha, ha, stereotypical jokes about all Lawrentians; don’t get your panties in a bunch. It kills me that I feel the need for this parenthetical — and perhaps it also furthers my point.)
When Lawrence was ranked the 18th most rigorous school in the nation, the elation and validation that Lawrentians felt was disturbing to me; why was it that such validation was needed?
We all habitually whine to each other about how no one could possibly be more overworked than us. Did we need **Newsweek** to confirm this, as if it were merely a hypothesis we parrot back and forth to each other until we receive outside confirmation?
Indeed, half the conversations I have and overhear on any given weekday night turn into sick competitions. “What are you up to?” quickly and nearly inevitably transitions into an escalating arms race of who can think of the most stuff they have to do by the earliest deadline.
I am not exempt, and perhaps especially not exempt, because I feel I’ve had more ammo for my arguments this year than any past year, what with grad school applications — and see, there I go playing into it too.
And now, back to the word “perceived.” I think that when it comes to being stressed out, we want others to think we are stressed out — because it means we are cooler, more intelligent, more capable, more “A plus” in personality, etc..
When we have these regular competitions over stress levels, we talk others into thinking we are more stressed than we might actually be, and in doing so talk ourselves into being more stressed than we actually are, all in our desperation to gain the prestige of winning the masochistic contest. It’s all about perception: what perceptions we hope to disseminate to others and accidentally convince ourselves of.
What I am here to do in this article is to point out, quite simply and surprisingly self-evidently, that when we compete over who is most stressed, no one wins. Yes, there will actually be someone who is most stressed — we do have a lot of very hardworking and over-worked students on campus.
The problem is that we all strive toward the ideal of being the most overworked, and one proof of this is how stressed one acts. I am here to suggest that participating in this sick competition is a choice. And why choose to stress?
Choose instead to do what you need to do, and when stress arises, let it. Don’t seek out stress so you can put it on display and brag about it. As a community, just how masochistic are we?
**Author’s Note**: As a final note, I want to credit Kat Berling for articulating the same sentiment that I am attempting to capture here in her insightful comments on the overload fees news article on the website of **The Lawrentian**. I only thought of the overload issue as a starting point for my article at the end of the writing process, and thus I discovered her comments only after already well into this rant; Kat, I hope that you feel reaffirmed rather than ripped off by my unintentional overlap with your thought.