There is an unwritten rule that we must fill our days with activity in order to feel productive, purposeful, and important. We often go throughout the day multitasking, writing our papers with one hand while we scroll through social media with the other and use our feet to pick up the dirty laundry from the floor.
Although many tasks were completed, how often were these tasks beneficial to creating the ideal life we envision for ourselves?
When we were younger we saw our purpose in day to day occurrences, from seeing the biggest bug to eating the most ice cream scoops. We felt happy, relaxed, and purposeful that we were doing all that we could and to the best of our abilities.
What happened between then and now? How did we come from a state of contempt to that of utter shock in the fact that we are not doing enough, being enough, and living enough? All our lives we, “had been led by the hand like a small child and suddenly [we] are on our own,” and we are noticing that we are terrible at everything.
Somehow in that short span between childhood and now we started believing we had to be the best at everything we tried our hand in. Our scope has become bigger. It is not enough to be the best bug catcher in the entire first grade, we must be the best out of all our peers, an expert in the bug catching niche.
Then of course, we add in the visions of what we believe other people are doing. They seem busier, they “work faster, work better, race from place to place.” We try to cope by doing the same, filling our lives with meaningless endeavors in an effort to not only impress those around us, but impress ourselves.
Since our schedules become so cluttered with activities, we cannot take the time to reassess who we are at the core. We worry about the parameters that hold our life together and the resources needed to keep those intact.
We, to make matters even worse, blame our schedules for the fact that we cannot take that vacation, volunteer at the next church outing or partake in the apartment wide game of cards. When people ask how we are doing we reply with, “oh I’m just swamped,” respond to emails with, “sorry I’m late, I’ve been so …” and apologize for missing yet another roommate dinner.
It Starts with You
College is positioned at a point in your life when little makes sense. So much is different, the place you live, your social circles, the material you are learning, that your core gets a little shaken. You don’t know who you are anymore because you are not surrounded by the people and activities that have shown you plainly who you are and what you are meant for.
You fill up your time by doing anything and everything because you believe that in the midst of that you will find who you are. While some of that statement is true, it doesn’t settle in until you have your core traits figured out.
Stephen R. Covey advises in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that, “by working on ourselves instead of worrying about the conditions, we are able to influence the conditions.” We can switch out external factors, such as getting a new job, to elevate our immediate feelings of purpose, however, if we want these to last long term we must look inward.
The first thing is to determine, “who you are, what you are about and what you value,” so that when life throws you a curve ball, you still know how to hit it.
Here are some examples of core character traits and values:
- Speaking up for those who do not have a voice.
- Defend the rights of the destitute.
- Trust people but do not rely on them.
- Love others in a way that allows growth and vulnerability on both ends.
- Do not compromise on honesty.
- Listen twice as much as you speak.
By identifying the type of person you want to be, you will fill up your time with things that will benefit you. If you believe you are a person who speaks up for those who do not have a voice, you might start to volunteer at the local shelter or food pantry. If you are a person that trusts people but does not rely on them, you will stop doing everything your friends are doing in order to keep them and instead enjoy your own hobbies.
How To Live This Out
Once you have your values and understand what important factors drive your decisions, you can take your free time and dive into social involvement. As humans we crave to, “serve, to produce, and to contribute in meaningful ways” in order to strengthen our communities and see positive changes around us. Change drives meaning.
When you invite others to partake in your purpose and mission, you get the opportunity to observe change at a greater scale. As Dee Williams puts it, “if we all held homes with longer arms-we’d live in a very different place,” as we experience something greater than what we could offer ourselves. You will see the greatest glimpses of yourself in others when you step in and reside in their worlds.
As for Now
As college students, you might find ourselves doing things you hate and learning things you don’t find interesting and filling up your schedules meeting with people you find boring.
Now, it is not imperative and at all practical to quit every job, educational experience, and activity that is deemed worthless. There is beauty in the waiting and growth in the uncomfortable.
With core values and principles intact, and knowing full well who you are, you can live amongst the days of going to that terrible job, being in classes that do not offer much value, and the hours spent wondering if reading poetry, short stories, and novels will amount to anything.
As Cheryl Strayed put it best, “the useless days will add up to something” and your purpose does not reside within your skinned walls, but in the world.
Stop being busy. Prioritize what is important to you. Then start to do those things. Keep at it, for, “it is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found.” When we are full of life, we pour out. We create, we draw, we write, we craft, and we speak.