Have you ever had the feeling that it’s never enough? The work you’re doing is wonderful but there is more to be done and greater things to be achieved? What a strange emotion to encounter. If you think about it the work we do today would look like light years of work only a few decades ago. Booming technology advances and better research led us to a time that must look remarkable to past generations. Yet I find myself, and seemingly many of my peers, never quite satisfied with my accomplishments. I walked through campus today and ended up behind a young woman on the phone, she was sharing that her last final had just ended and yet she felt there was more left to do. She remarked how there was nothing remaining on her to-do list and the semester was over yet no weight was lifted from her shoulders. The most off putting moment of this brief encounter (and slight accidental eavesdropping) was no red flags were triggered. I continued on with my walk not thinking about it until I wrote the first sentence of this post 10 minutes ago. How could a feeling like that exist? Final examinations are over and seemingly no other tasks exist, shouldn’t a wave of relief and freedom be rushing over her at the very moment her exam was laid down in front of the professor? When talking with students I directly advise their feelings are similar. They are “done” for the semester but continue working on various projects or even preparing for the next semester. I hear it so often maybe that’s why it didn’t shock me to hear this woman sharing similar feelings.
It leads me to believe that the world has sped up but only because it’s been forced to do so. Probably by our own insatiable drive. The world spins on its axis at the same rate as it did centuries long passed, it rotates around the sun at the same speed as it always has. Yet wouldn’t you agree that time has jumped to a remarkable and frightening pace? Every moment we feel that more must be done, somehow setting absolutely ridiculous expectations on ourselves while we often miss the beautiful, calm world developing each day around us.
This is a much larger philosophical discussion then I care to dive into within one blog post. Rather I want to focus this discussion and the questions it raises on how we interact with our students. I work at a highly-selective institution that recently ranked as one of the most stressful universities in the country (how much weight you put on those rankings is up to you). I’ve come to realize that because we work at such a break neck pace, as do our students, maybe I’m doing something wrong by not enforcing my statements that students need to slow down. I always tell students to take time for themselves, to relax and find some outlet other then work to find enjoyment. But should I be nudging them harder to stop and smell the roses even though everything inside me keeps telling me to run faster? I don’t know if there are any great answers to these questions (as is normal for any great life discussions) but it would be nice to have a better understanding of the fine line between pushing students farther and pulling students back.
I’ve asked students one question more then any other in the past few months: “How do you define success?” I selfishly admit I love the look on student’s faces as they scramble to come up with an answer. Often their first response is not their final and it takes a few tries until a statement is found that really resonates. When I ask that question internally I wonder if my face contorts in the same way the student’s do. Ask yourself this: How are we defining success for our students? Is it their development (which can be difficult to measure)? Is it achieving personal or organizational goals? Is it defining and living their values? Or is it just helping students slow down and learn to live, love, and embrace the vastly unique world they have been gifted? In my current place in life I come to believe that it is a mixture of them all yet I still wonder whether or not they would continue to work as diligently with or without me and I should instead be advising them to meditate or take long bike rides.
If you want more thought inducing content take a look at this video on the Secret Powers of Time.