Students Should Not Spread Themselves Too Thin

The Crimson White (University of Alabama)
April 6, 2015

By John David Thompson

When I was preparing to begin my first semester of college, I remember one piece of advice nearly everyone told me: make sure you get involved. While I think that was wonderful advice, I wish I had been cautioned more about the risks of becoming over-involved: getting burned out, not having enough time to focus on academics, not having enough time to relax and most importantly not being able to fully commit myself to anything.

Now more than ever, many college students try to be as involved as possible, working to cram as many activities and memberships into their resumes as possible in the hopes of getting the best job or admission into a top graduate program after college. With so much involvement combined with the time students must commit to their studies, there is the risk of not fulfilling our commitments. During my time at The University of Alabama, one of the most frustrating challenges has been an inability to get enough students to come to meetings and accomplish tasks within organizations because they are so involved.

Giving back to the community is important. However, if you try to do too much, you may find that impossible. When applying for membership in student organizations, do some serious consideration. Do I truly have the time to commit to this position? Am I genuinely interested? It’s also beneficial to reflect on your involvement from year to year and decide if you need to reduce what is on your schedule.

There are many negatives to not being fully able to commit yourself to an organization, but arguably the most important is that other group members suffer. With so many students being extremely involved, scheduling can be nearly impossible. When interviewing for jobs or graduate programs, if you’ve only been to a few meetings, it could be difficult to explain an organization’s purpose, why you were involved or even justify the organization’s importance.

Rarely is college a time of healthy lifestyle choices and effective time management. In fact, for many of us it’s just the opposite. Therefore, it’s important to build personal time into your schedule for sleep, exercise and catching up where you’ve fallen behind. In Forbes, David Ballard advises people who are experiencing burnout (exhaustion, poor performance, unhappiness, etc.) to “truly think about what you’ll do to relax, and designate time for it.” For undergraduates planning to do graduate work, it is especially important to avoid burning out.

With technology increasingly becoming an invasive force, taking time to “unplug” should not be underestimated. A survey by the American Psychological Association had the following conclusion: “More than one-third of employed Americans said communication technology increases their workload (36 percent) and makes it more difficult to stop thinking about work (34 percent) and take a break from work (35 percent).” Interestingly, younger workers from 18 to 35 years old reported that technology causes work-life conflict much more than their older cohorts. We reap numerous benefits from technology, but it is important to take the necessary steps to make sure it is only a tool to improve our lives.

In terms of being involved, it is far better to fully commit yourself to a few organizations that you are passionate about. According to educational consultant Steven Roy Goodman, “It’s important to be well lopsided rather than well rounded. That enables you to focus on what you’re good at.” If you narrow your focus, interviews and essays will be much easier because you have taken the time to deeply explore yourself and your passions. Take the time to invest in yourself and your interests. Find your passion, and be who you were meant to be. That is what will make you successful.

John David Thompson is a sophomore majoring in political science. His column runs weekly.

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