A New Year – and a Resolution

A confession: technically it is not a new year.  It’s still 2012.  But the University has turned the calendar to the new academic and fiscal year starting July 1st, so it feels like a new year here.  Time to look ahead to the coming fall semester, and time to think and plan about the future.  What we will do.  Goals.  Dreams.

Over the weekend I stumbled across a very thought-provoking article called “The Busy Trap” by Tim Kreider in the New York Times (thanks to Mary Dalton, Co-Director of the Documentary Film Program and Associate Professor of Communication).  Here’s a taste of the article:

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.”…It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”

As you might suggest, the article goes on to talk about why we should resist the siren’s song of full schedules and the wonders that might be revealed to us if we slow down, say no to what is unimporant, and listen to what the world might tell us if we stopped to listen.  “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration,” writes Kreider.

I would love for our students to read this article.  They are a busy lot.  Some of it is classes, and homework, and studying for important things like tests or LSATs – but when I hear our students talk about their lives, I hear some of that self-imposed business.  This is an achievement-oriented generation, and they are not wont to sit with “dead time” in their schedules.  For most of them, college is as “free” as they will ever be – most do not have full time jobs, or dependent children, or limited amounts of PTO (or money).  They have the luxury of time, and they can think and dream and examine the world…if they choose to.

My wish for our students would be that they take some time to reflect.  Resist the urge to schedule every minute.  Be open to the possibility of taking a walk just because the mood strikes you, or spending time with a friend who needs it, or thinking in depth about what you want when you grow up.

Parents and families, if this article strikes a chord with you, share it with your students.  And have a discussion about what it means in your life, and in theirs.  Could be time well spent.

And if you want to join me, make this new [academic] year’s resolution to be less busy, but more open to the world.  I am betting we will be delighted with less, and we’ll gain so much more.

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