We’ve been living in San Francisco for months now. In that time, we’ve sung around bonfires at Ocean Beach, raced through the city on scavenger hunts, and shared a home-cooked feast with the community. We’ve been to concerts and festivals, attended entrepreneurship conferences and startup pitches, and engaged with a seemingly endless list of organizations in the city. The list goes on and on, and on. Any way you look at it, it’s been pretty remarkable.
Our day-to-day experience paints a pretty picture. For me, a typical day looks like this: wake up at 7 am, plug in a favorite Spotify playlist, and head out of the residence hall for a 30-minute run around a nearby neighborhood. Sometimes it’s the Tenderloin, sometimes the Castro, sometimes just straight down Market Street toward the water. I return home, take a shower, make myself a bowl of oatmeal (I am a student after all), before packing up my bag and heading out the door.
The next part of the day, from 9 am until 12:30 pm, takes place at a café, from which I take my two classes and indulge in a much-needed Americano — always double-shot.
Once classes are over, I head back to the residence hall to make some lunch, before heading out again, maybe stopping by Dolores Park for a few hours to do some class readings with fellow students eager to enjoy the sunshine. Once I’m done with that, I head back home and whip up something for dinner, an experience often contained entirely within the walls of the microwave.
The evening can take on many forms. It might be a free weekly improv show, or hiking up to Corona Heights to watch the sunset. Often it’s simply sitting around the residence hall laughing with friends into the wee hours of the morning.
And then the process repeats; co-curriculars, countless events and opportunities, city exploration, and adventures are all thrown into the mix.
Despite a demanding workload, this all sounds rather idyllic. In many ways it is. Yet I also fear a danger that lurks beneath all of this stuff. It’s a danger that’s been under the surface for a while, but came to fruition the other night (or more accurately morning) at 3 am, as a group of around 40 of us gathered in the common room on the fourth floor to speak and listen and support one another.
That evening just before midnight, a few students came around to all of the rooms that were still open, and asked people to convene on the top floor for an ‘activity.’ It turned out to be four hours of beautiful conversation. It was simple in structure, yet complex in its result. We all sat in a circle, passing a mug of hot chocolate around the room from one person to the next. When you had the mug, you had the opportunity to say anything you wanted. The room was yours, and everyone gave you their full attention. Despite how distinct the stories were, a common theme began to emerge: many people were struggling with many things. Whether that was missing people from home, connecting with people here, or facing insecurities, everyone seemed to have something they were wrestling with. And many felt they weren’t adequately dealing with whatever it was. They hadn’t had the time to figure it out yet.
Herein lies the danger; being so busy and swept up in life creates a shadow that obscures how we’re actually feeling. With no pause for reflection, we fail to see what lies beneath this shadow and neglect our own experience. Pauses allow us to process emotions and to see underlying worries or struggles we didn’t know were there.
To different extents, all 160 of us have been through an intense emotional experience over the last two months. Starting at university is not easy, neither is leaving our friends and family, moving states or countries, adjusting to a new city, or living with an entirely new group of people. These are all major life events and have all happened in conjunction with one another. It is normal to have had difficulty in this process, to have struggled, failed, and fallen. But if we don’t give ourselves the space to acknowledge this, we may let our emotions build up under the surface, often oblivious to our own struggle.
Filling every hour of the calendar may make us feel like we’re living a full life, but in reality, we could be missing out on all of the most important things that make life full.
Pausing can give us space to catch up with the pace of our lives. What’s going well and what can we improve? It’s a time to check in with ourselves and make sure we’re doing okay. This space is crucial, not just for processing emotions, but also for learning from our experiences and growing as individuals.
Maria Popova, the writer behind the wildly popular blog “Brainpickings,” tells us to “build pockets of stillness” into our lives. She suggests we actively construct our calendars around these “pockets,” whether they be going for walks, riding a bike, or meditating. Even just watching a favorite TV show, Skyping a family member or close friend, or lying in bed with nothing to do can create the space needed to catch up with ourselves.
Instead of seeing these activities as detracting from productivity, we can view them as the bedrocks of a productive and meaningful life. When we live in a culture of busyness, taking pause can feel like laziness. But we shouldn’t give in to this cultural pressure. For what could be more important than investing time in our health and happiness, which allows us to contribute meaningfully to the world?
Being busy doing things I love is something I’m grateful for every day. I think it should be cultivated and celebrated. But, I also try to look carefully at what I’m missing out on when I fill my calendar to the brim. There’s always an opportunity cost to investing time in something. And if that opportunity cost is my well-being, it’s probably time to reassess my priorities.
I’ve been working hard on this since that night with the hot chocolate mug. I say “no” to that event I don’t really need to attend and call my friends back home more often. I aim to run most days and go to yoga more often. I take the time to close my door, jump into bed and read for pleasure, and to write, not for school or work, but for myself. All of these things add so much joy to my life, and give anything that’s been simmering under the surface the chance to come up.
Embrace each opportunity and dive deeply into what you love, but remember to allow space for “pockets of stillness” in which you can reconnect with yourself. Treasure these pockets, and don’t let them get lost in the flow of life. The price of busyness might be higher than you think.