The Culture of Overcommitment

I can’t help but laugh at the irony in this article as I struggle to put the words together by my first draft deadline, overwhelmed with other obligations and projects I’ve committed to.

There is a culture of overcommitment at Emerson. Students figure this out before they are even accepted to the college. If you’ve taken a campus tour, you know what I mean. Student ambassadors, also known as tour guides, introduce themselves to tour groups with their name, major, and campus involvements. Rarely is the latter of the information just one organization, but rather a laundry list of titles and memberships.

“What you learn your first week freshman year is that you overcommit,” says Jackson Davis, a soon-to-be Emerson alum. Just a week into his collegiate career, Davis was well-aware of the community’s tendency to take on too much, falling into the trap himself.

I, too, have tragically given shape to this culture, just as almost every Emersonian has. It is a culture that feeds off of the competition of being busy. Oh, you haven’t slept in two days and have a film shoot this weekend and a paper that was due a week ago? Well, I haven’t slept in five days, have two film shoots, three articles to write, and an entire thesis due in an hour.

These are fake scenarios, sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was an actual conversation that played out between Emerson students.

With over 80 organizations to join and an entire city at the tips of our fingers to work in and explore, it only makes sense that we should overcommit ourselves. How else would we experience everything Emerson and Boston has to offer? Four years is not what it used to be.

I think the passion Emerson students harbor is incredible. I think it’s admirable that so much creativity exists at this school, and that students are able to have multiple interests as the outlets are available.

I don’t think the tendency to take on so much that you feel like you’re collapsing every day is admirable. I think this culture is toxic and something that we need to transform.

But where does this culture begin?

Does it start at the Organization Fair held at the beginning of each semester? Every publication, film organization and Greek-lettered collective throwing pamphlets in your face, encouraging you to come to at least one meeting?

Is it embedded in the student leaders on campus, the ones you somehow find on every corner of our city block, managing to be a part of anything and everything?

Maybe it starts with the notion that we should take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. The notion that if we say no, we’ll be missing out.
    Fuck this notion.

You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to turn down offers and ask for more time on projects and put yourself first. While the fear of disappointing others might be present, and while saying no might not be easy, it might be what’s best for you.

While it’s cool to be involved on campus and have a visible presence, it’s also cool to be a part of just one organization, or to be a part of nothing.
    There is no right way to experience college.

I remember talking to my Resident Assistant, Danny, as a freshman, venting to him about how overwhelmed I felt trying to keep up with my school work, job, and outside obligations. Looking around campus, I had this false idea that everyone around me was successfully handling the pressure of being a college student, especially a student at a campus that was swimming in ambition.

He told me to take a step back and really think about my commitments. Was I positively contributing to these organizations and were they doing the same for me? Was I creating experiences and work that would benefit me in the long-run? Most importantly, was I happy?

Danny showed me that it was okay to not be an over-involved Emerson student. Outside of his RA job, Danny focused on his major and the projects he created inside of the classroom. He didn’t overcommit and seemed a lot happier this way. It was eye-opening to meet someone who was comfortable living outside of the Emerson culture.

It’s okay to want to be involved in everything. Think about how you are dividing your time, though, and dedicate yourself to what you love. Your mental health is more important than your resume.

Take time for yourself. Breathe. We were the ones who created this culture. Let’s be the ones who change it.

Photo by: Vivian Lau and Taylor Roberts