In the last week, how many times did you hear someone complain, “I’ve done nothing today”?
How many times did you reply, “me neither”?
And how many times was that strictly true?
It’s easy to innumerate what we haven’t done. Well, easier than getting on and doing it anyway. We’re surrounded by media that details what hasn’t happened; academics that want us to “unpack that a bit”; and fellow students who compete over how much of what they have yet to do has not yet been done. It’s relentless. It’s exhausting.
We’re all here, at the University of Cambridge, because we are masters of denial. We deny ourselves a tea break when there are problem sheets to be solved; we deny ourselves sleep when there are essays to be written. Meanwhile, we’re egged on by tales of tutors who claim that a 60-hour week is what’s required to do Tripos ‘properly’ and that supervision partner who always gets to the good library books before you and never skips lectures. We’ve never read enough or said enough.
Never deny yourself tea.
It takes the fun out of it all – the pleasurable sense that you can feel your brain swelling with knowledge (do you remember that sense, from week one of Michaelmas in first year?) is eclipsed by the sense that your brain is fruitlessly contracting to produce a disappointing mess of an essay. For the perfectionists among us – and unsurprisingly, the term can be applied to the majority of Cambridge students – the fight or flight instinct is in almost perpetual overdrive: depending on caffeine and sugar levels, we invariably choose either to work so hard as to run ourselves into the ground, or to just give up all together.
But “where can we escape to, when we are unhappy with ourselves?”
Clue: the answer isn’t Cindies.
And it might not be a Reading Week – which would be a very simple solution to a very complicated problem.
Instead, we should be asking: why should we want to escape at all? Why is there a need for that pause? Shouldn’t we be working on lowering the expectations of ourselves and the University at large? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what we value more: sleep or a slightly more refined conclusion; a memorable trip to the pub with your friends or a slightly longer bibliography?
At the end of the day, this is where we set the tone for our adult lives: these three years are full of choices. And that’s pretty great. We’re lucky to have the opportunity to be so busy. You’re in control, so choose wisely. Look at your life: what’s missing? What’s unnecessary? Are you doing what you love? Are you happy?
If not, don’t keep calm and carry on – make a change. Skip the chapters you find boring. Make time to have a bath. And, most importantly, spend time with the people you value. Far from being a ‘waste of time’, these are the things you’ll remember fondly when you look back on your years here. And after a day of banging your head against the unyielding wall of Kantian ethics, the simple gratification of polishing off a whole bag of peanuts with your best friend is, frankly, healthy (mentally; perhaps not physically).
To dwell on the negative – the non-existent ‘nothing’ that you have done today – is unwise. And not only that, it’s unproductive. It’s overwhelming. It’s that sudden moment in the library when you realise you have eight books to read in two hours and it’s not going to get done so you’re going to fail your whole degree and end up living with your parents until the age of 52 earning your money from doing their laundry and going to bed at 8pm every night just for something to do. This state of mind is, funnily enough, irrational. As my wisest and sagest friend likes to tell me, CTFO.
Now think: what have you done today (it doesn’t have to have made you feel proud, thank you very much Heather Small.)
Have you done much today to make you feel proud? Fine if not. Heather won't judge.
I for one had an excellent rhubarb crumble, discovered ‘eggings’ and found that according to BuzzFeed I was “a pretty average ’00s teen”. I also wrote this article, not because I had time – what even is time? – but because it just started oozing out of me while I was trying to read about the effect of the French Revolution on the English Enlightenment, and I thought it was worth giving some time of day to. I hope you agree.
Credits: Laurel F; YouTube