January 23, 2019

SONG | Keeping Up the Beginning-of-the-Semester High

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I’ve been waking up these past few days with the same strange, rare feeling — I am at Cornell and feeling motivated. 

I call it the “beginning-of-the-semester high.” Anyone who is a human and studies at Cornell knows what it is: that feeling at the beginning of every semester when everything still feels possible, productive and hopeful. I’ve seen my friends (and myself) suddenly have the urge to make an omelet for breakfast and spend more than 20 seconds picking out the day’s outfit, then take the longer, more nature-filled route to the first lecture. Time and time again, I hear friends setting goals around this time of the semester, saying things like “I’ll go to class more often” or “I’ll coordinate chores with my housemates” or “I’ll try to cook more this semester.”

It’s strange how there’s a period of time when we suddenly feel like our lives are put together. Maybe it’s the freshness of a new beginning, or the promise of a rare week with no tests, but something in the air is different. Whatever it is, I like it.

While I can’t explain this collective urge to brew slow-drip in the morning or actually go to the gym (and dare I say, enjoy it in the process), I do know one thing for sure: This magic moment is always short-lived. Four weeks later, “I’ll go to class more often” turns into dragging ourselves out the door in sweatpants and a comb in our hair, heading to a lecture after already missing two. That omelet from the first week? A sandwich at Goldie’s will do.

As I’m riding the high this week along with everyone else, I find myself constantly wondering, when it will end? When will I lose that urge to eat healthy and finish all my work before 10 p.m., and shift to scrambling to finish a nine-page paper at 2 a.m.? I’ve observed every semester that there’s a specific point when we all cross that line. One day you wake up and you don’t feel like preparing a homemade lunch over Trillium’s chicken tenders anymore, or you go to class and you’re 10 chapters behind on the reading. “Remember when” becomes a mantra too soon, too quickly. The end result, I’ve noticed, is a campus that becomes rapidly less motivated to achieve small goals they’re passionate about, and instead focuses intently on stress and toppling workloads.

So there’s no time more crucial than right now, while everyone is still relishing in the hopefulness of the first week of school, to give everyone a goal: Let’s remember what this feels like, and keep it going. My first mistake every semester is letting the motivation slip away. It becomes buried under the growing work and stress, until I forget what motivation felt like entirely. And the motivation only reappears in small, guilty moments, like when I have flashbacks to “that time” I used to clean my room regularly, or had a chance to read a book before bed. Even if it means maintaining just one goal after the first week, like cooking three lunches a week or visiting the gym at least 10 times, I hope everyone this semester can try harder to hold onto the motivation they’re feeling right now, and eventually turn “that time I used to” into a present reality.

People will inevitably contradict these goals with talks about time — as we get busier, we lose time to fulfill those goals. While it’s true our schedules become more packed, I’ve personally observed less time usually isn’t the actual downfall: It’s the stress of the workload that drives us to procrastinate, which causes more stress, which leads to less work being done. The result is a snowball effect of unproductivity, driven almost entirely by a toxic mentality focused on getting things done, instead of enjoying them.

I’ve realized most of my goals and the goals of my peers have nothing to do with time at all. Sure, some larger goals are more time-consuming, but most are small goals that don’t usually require much of our time at all. For example, one of my friends wants to drink more water, and another would like to be more involved in school clubs. Personally, I’d like to wake up earlier in the morning. I find these small goals usually take no more than an hour or two in our day, or maybe even 10 minutes. And there’s almost always a few minutes to spare no matter how busy you are, like filling up a water bottle in the morning on the way out, or waking up twenty minutes earlier. In many cases, it’s the daunting prospect of adopting a lifestyle change rather than sacrificing time that actually scares people. Saying time is the limiting factor is usually more of an excuse than an answer.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I hope everyone can find one of those small goals to stick to this semester, and be uplifting to one another in fulfilling them. Remember this feeling of the beginning of the semester, and don’t let the inevitable tests and workload make you forget your small motivations, many of which don’t take up much time at all. The high of this first week might fade, but we can all do our best not to let it slip away entirely.

Kelly Song is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Songbird Sings runs every other Thursday this semester. She can be reached at [email protected]