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Well-Roundedness: The Line Between “Involved” and “Over-Committed”

September, 2012
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Welcome back to school, everybody! It’s crazy right? After a long, well-deserved summer break we are right back into the swing of things.  And sometimes, the swing of things means busy, busy, busy!

I’m back at university for my sophomore year, and I’ll be honest: it’s a little surreal to start up again. I mean, it’s not just the homework, because I’ve been dealing with that since Year 1. It’s… well, I’m starting to realize that there are a lot of things that I want to accomplish in my last three years at UC Berkeley, and that I don’t have a whole load of time to do all of them.

One of the greatest things about university is that you are suddenly given a huge pool of activities, causes and clubs that you can get involved in. There is almost always something to do and something going on.  And on most campuses there can be hundreds of student groups that serve a variety of interests. 

Yes, it is one of the greatest things about going to college, but it’s also one of the worst temptations. When I walk through campus, I am almost assaulted with the scores of events and goings-on at my school.  There’s even a quote from a student, written on a poster that hangs from a highly visible lamppost, which states bluntly and honestly: “The only bad thing about Cal is that there’s too much to do.”

I have to say I agree. Freshman year was a great time to get over-involved on campus, see what’s out there, and find out what I like. But now that I’m a second-year, I realize that I’m going to have to narrow down my activities if I want to continue to do well academically. Because most students see themselves grow into leadership positions in their extracurricular activities, as they get older, they often struggle with a general lack of time.

If you’re developing into a leader in your groups, it seems silly to quit as soon as the challenge is thrown your way, and it seems even worse to spread yourself too thin and do a poor job. So what’s the solution? I would argue that it’s a combination of a little bit of hard work and a lot of time management. Here are a couple of time management and activity tips that I have found useful in my own life…

First, remember that it’s important to be well-rounded and involved, but it’s dangerous to over-commit.  Well-roundedness is a huge asset, both in your professional life and your personal life. It’s simply better for your sanity to have something other than schoolwork to occupy your time with: you feel more productive, you get involved in your community, and you meet a ton of new people. But it’s also great on an application or a resume: employers or schools want to see that you demonstrate responsibility and time management skills in all aspects of your life, not just academia, and they want to see your many interests and what makes you unique.

Second, take a deep breath. Sometimes, even in high school, it is easy to get stressed out and confused about your priorities and your activities. It can feel overwhelming to be so involved, and that’s where the word balance becomes incredibly important.

So third, prioritize. Remember that while extracurriculars are vital, you are at school first and foremost to be a student. Sometimes you have to take a step back to focus on your tests, homework, and projects, and you know what? That’s ok. Figure out what is most important to you in your other activities, and take leadership roles in the clubs that you find most significant. Is your actual job or research more important to you than the music group you’re involved in? Prioritize it! It’s another common fallacy to think that you have to be a leader in every club you’re involved in. But you don’t have to be the president of the student council, and the captain of the basketball team, and the head of the mathletes, and the chair of a multicultural group all at the same time as running a community service effort. You’d have to be a superhuman in order to do all of that and still do well academically.  It’s fine, even healthy, to explore your passions through student activities without leading them.

Fourth, you need to learn to schedule. I mean it. Take out a calendar, whether it’s on paper or on a computer, and plug in your classes, major projects and your extracurricular activities. Then look at it and re-evaluate. Be honest with yourself: can you handle all of it? It may be helpful to highlight the clubs or activities that are most important to you so that you can visualize your priorities. Are there any overlaps? Think about which of them is more significant. Then look at your remaining time. Do you have enough hours to study, do your homework, and still have a social life? If not, you might have to think about your options and goals. If you are aiming to study five hours a day, for example, being involved in six clubs might not be the most practical thing for you. Everyone is different, so take some time to think about your personal needs and priorities.

Finally, have fun. I feel like I’ve made activities and events sound like a whole lot of work, but to be honest, the whole reason for being involved in extracurriculars is to have a good time and grow as a person. These additional activities provide you with a great opportunity to become a well-rounded person, explore your passions, and to develop leadership skills outside of the classroom. Being responsible and organized in your extracurricular life can help you be more responsible and organized with your schoolwork and your personal life as well. 

Who knows – you might find your future career in one of your student groups. Or maybe you’ll feel rewarded by your work. There are countless benefits to being a well-rounded and involved individual, if you expose yourself to the opportunities on offer.

By Gabriella Rader

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