February 15, 2012

In Praise of Slacking

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The simple fact that you attend Cornell means many things. Probably first among these is that you try hard. While students at many other universities (cough cough, Harvard) would not bother to drag themselves out of bed to get to class on a snowy, slushy Monday after a night of Ruloff’s Trivia, the same cannot be said about Cornellians.

In fact, if there were three feet of snow on the sidewalks obscuring a layer of black ice, the wind chill was 27 degrees below zero, you had walking pneumonia, a broken leg and you were out the night before until 3 a.m., you would still drag yourself to class, because you are a Cornellian. Would you complain? No, because despite the fact that you may want to curl up in a ball and die, the upside is that maybe you will pass on your pneumonia to that guy sitting next to you and then you’ll be able to set the curve on the prelim next week.

Let’s face it: We try too hard. That scenario is ridiculous, but would it surprise you if you found out it was true? I don’t think it would surprise me. Maybe it means that I need to graduate, because I have been here too long, or maybe it means that we should all take a good long look at our priorities.  (Thanks, Hannah Deixler, for almost taking my column idea for this week).

I know that I am not the only person to have found myself in a 350-person lecture with  a girl sitting next to me who feels the need to answer all the professor’s rhetorical questions. Is it really necessary that this person prove to the professor that she is going to do well on the next prelim? That is what the prelims are for. Dear person:  Just because you are the only person who raises her hand doesn’t mean that you are the only one who knows the answer. Most of us know the answer, and if we don’t, we are about to, because that’s what rhetorical questions are for.

We all know the people who study too hard. To be fair, if you want to do well here you need to study, but at some point is it really worth it? If I could put in three hours of studying and get an A minus, why would I ever put in fifteen more hours to get an A? That seems like the biggest waste of time. I could spend those additional fifteen hours at a club, or an event where I could interact with real people and make new friends who will mean more to me in fifteen years than some A I got on a prelim. It’s a simple case of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Eventually, you get less benefit from each additional hour you spend studying: You simply become less efficient.

We as Cornellians don’t just try too hard in class. We take this obscenely competitive spirit with us everywhere. We can’t just be in one club. No, we must be registered members of 27 clubs, even if we never go to any of them. When we list 20-some clubs on our resumes, no one actually believes that we do that much stuff.

Then there are the people who need to be the president of every club they are in. Why? Is it really more enjoyable to have to manage five different organizations simultaneously? You know what else is enjoyable? Sleep. Consider the possibility that it might be more enjoyable to sit back and relax and let someone else do all the work for a change. Trust me, it’s not that bad; I have done it.

I see it all the time at intramural sports games, where all that’s at stake is a T-shirt and your pride. Sure, I think it is great to be competitive and perform to the best of your abilities, but there is a limit to how badly I want to win. If you find yourself screaming at a five-foot-four freshman girl refereeing your men’s recreational basketball game and making her cry, you may want to take a second to consider that everyone else is watching you and judging. Oh yes, we are judging big time. Trust me, no one is impressed, we are all just embarrassed for you.

I am sure that I am much happier here among people that occasionally try too hard (all the time, for some of you) than I would be among people that didn’t ever try hard. But I think that it would be nice if on occasion the whole university took a chill pill and declared a campus-wide relaxation day. No learning would be allowed. Duffield would be closed (all the libraries too, and every other academic building for good measure). All students would be required to leave their dorm rooms and spend the whole day on the Arts Quad or the Slope, where there would be a campus wide barbecue, Frisbees for throwing and towels for sunbathing on. Relaxation would be mandatory and massages free. Anyone caught not relaxing or sneaking in academic texts would be referred to the JA. (Actually, this sounds a lot like Slope Day …). Moral of the story: Don’t try so hard.

Original Author: Will Spencer