I hate Doodle. For those lucky few who have avoided it during their college careers, Doodle is an online scheduling system used to pick times for events and meetings. Its secondary purpose is the consumption and excretion of mauled souls. My obviously strong feelings about an inanimate and immaterial time management tool stem not from its inferiority to the design and usability of competitors like When2Meet. Instead my anger stems from the fact that every Doodle created becomes an uphill battle and a sad awareness of just how little time we all have. Doodle allows me to quantify and visualize just how much my work eats my time, just how few additional responsibilities I can stand to take on, and just how similar everyone’s boat is. Though I love keeping busy and love my work, a snapshot of a Doodle can still act as a graphic display of the overload, isolation-in-work, and unwellness of my life as a college student. And it’s a reminder that I do it to myself.
When I got into Columbia a little over four years ago, I assumed I would be a middling student. My high school career had been defined by long walks, plenty of time to read, and a deep love for movies. School and extracurricular commitments were important to me, sure, but I always put a great deal of value in keeping free time for myself, and I accepted that this relaxed attitude and the strictures of college would probably mean that I would be a decent student and come out the other end as a perfectly content government hack with a ton of free time on my hands.
But then I got my first A on a Literature Humanities paper. And it was so easy—easier than I thought it would be. Soon after, our first midterms rolled around and I was doing well, but still had more time than I needed. Then I knew that I could succeed here. I got bolder, took much more difficult classes, joined a number of clubs, and (wouldn’t you know it) started writing articles and columns for the first time in my life. It was not a matter of competition. In truth, this is not an extraordinarily competitive school compared to others. But there was just so much to do, and with so many others so heavily involved, there were just so many hints and tips to learn to make more time.
Success led to hubris. What started as exclamations of honest surprise at my accomplishments grew more self-confident and proud, eventually boastful. But the Icarus urge that this place can inspire, to always push a bit further, did burn me up. Eventually hubris shatters and the humility catches up fast and hard.
I’d love to say that my first major failures at Columbia helped to temper my pride forever and taught me a good lesson about balance, but that would be a boastful lie. Instead, as I reflect on my time at Columbia, I realize that my time here has been marked by a yo-yo pattern of pride and humble pie, of being primed and encouraged to succeed and over-achieve and then decentering and crashing down.
Columbia does a pretty good job of facilitating such oscillating experiences. There’s a certain tyranny of choice on this campus that does encourage one to take a greedy bite out of the courses, lectures, groups, events, internships, etc. available to us. But it can also be a harsh, fast, and aloof machine that will allow us to crash back down, only to provide the space for us to rise up again, learn to stand, evaluate our mistakes, and once more climb a bit higher.
There’s nothing wrong with this back and forth. I actually suspect that it’s a very good thing to test one’s limits, flirt with pride, and meet humility hard. It allows us to find our identities, to learn in truth what kind of person each of us is. But it’s important to recognize that this process of burn out, ego, and self-correction can be draining, especially when undertaken alone. There’s potential at this university to become amazing human beings. But there’s also the potential to really drive oneself into turmoil and pain if one pushes just a bit too hard—and it can be so tempting to push just a bit too hard.
Ultimately, Columbia is not to blame for all of this. Columbia is a tool that we might bend to our ends. Yes, it is an institution with its own unique dysfunctions and it can help to create a more or less well environment. But in the end, the majority of unwellness in our lives comes from ourselves. And total wellness, much like total bliss, is nearly mythic, given that we will tend to find ourselves at least flirting with unwellness for most of our lives. So the key—the one thing that hopefully has been inherent in most of the my columns—is to recognize that. For me, I recognize the unwellness I create for myself every time I see a Doodle. And then I make sure to clear out enough time on my schedule to watch a movie.
Unwellness, though our lives here may facilitate it, often stems from within us. But the seed to its cessation is within us. So be good to yourself. In the end, that’s the most important element of wellness. Just get some distance, reflect on the tumultuous process of becoming who you want to be, and make sure not to let it drag you into insanity. Step back, breathe, accept limitations and craziness, and be good to yourself. That is all.
Mark Hay is a Columbia College senior majoring in religion and political science. He is a coordinator of the Student Wellness Project and the acting chair for the InterPublications Alliance. The Whole Wellness runs alternate Wednesdays.