Underwhelmed by overcommitment

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • September 7, 2017

At issue: Emerson's culture of overcommitment
Our take: Failure is an essential learning experience

Orientation leaders have, at the direction of orientation core staff, encouraged incoming students this fall to avoid overcommitment, advocating for students to focus on social development and downplaying extracurriculars—a stark contrast to past orientations which have encouraged students to try as much as they can. This push, which received support from the newly-formed Office of Student Engagement and Leadership, comes in tandem with the release of EmConnect, a service which purportedly aims to increase student engagement. Orientation leaders were reportedly told to avoid discussing organizations related to students’ majors in meetings or letters.

But student organizations and the opportunities they afford students is one of the main draws of Emerson. After all, Emerson isn’t even ranked as a national school by US News and Report, but rather as regional university. Even further, Emerson came in #4 on Princeton Review’s students that study the least. While the studies in Princeton Review are comprised entirely of self-reporting students, the fact that this is a reigning student perception is telling. Students, in many cases, aren’t studying, but attending to one of their many extracurriculars. Overcommitment, or some form of it, has become endemic to our school’s culture.  

At Emerson, it is all too easy to inhabit a noxious culture where caffeine addiction, lost hours of sleep, and midnight anxiety attacks act as social currencies, twisted meter sticks for social mobility and professional clout. It’s the same culture that encourages young artists and media makers to provide free labor for mega-corporations in the name of “experience” and “exposure,” the same culture that pushes too many talented people toward total burnout. It doesn’t help when even the fear of “not doing enough”—one that tends to persist regardless of one’s boundless commitments and duties—is itself an anxiety-inducing experience. One ought to work hard on their passions, and one ought to step out of their comfort zone and explore new arenas of expression, but there’s still no value in stress for the sake of being stressed.

At all colleges and institutions, the freshman experience is subjective—what may work for one student may not work for another. Our administration should reflect the complexity of the individuals attending our college with an impartial approach to clubs and organizations. Youth is about self-discovery. It’s OK to try new things, fail, and try again—only then can students find a true passion to follow. We can’t find our niche pools without first dipping our toes in the water.

In essence, recognizing the difference between this crucial self-discovery and toxic overcommitment is key to building an environment where students can pursue different interests out of sheer curiosity rather than because of outside pressure to do more. For students fresh out of high school, joining organizations that simply look appealing can result in realizing passions that otherwise would have never been uncovered in class. Emerson students are known for their desire to do it all, and such enthusiasm should not be curbed out of fear of failure. But while we may not be able to accomplish everything, at least attempting something new, even if that means venturing outside of our comfort zones, presents us with the opportunity to narrow down our interests and find our callings.