My mom and I shared a life motto whenever I had struggled with heavy burdens: “What’s more important?” She had always taught me to ask myself this question because life would never be so simple and straightforward. More than ever, I’ve realized the true purpose and meaning of this question.
In a calm and seemingly mindless daydream in the buzzing quiet Kroch library in Olin, my mind was lost in a chaotic and loud frenzy. Flashes of my Google Calendar stamped a never-ending list of tasks through my head in a loop. This semester, I often find myself in this random, momentary crisis, pondering the same dilemma of what comes next. As my focus drifted away from the present, I found myself treading on a minefield of explosive, repetitive and unnecessary overthinking of the future — the realm of the incomplete. The pressure of unorganized priorities bombarded my thoughts, sparking confusion, uncertainty and underlying panic. I felt as though I had lost control over my own mentality, catapulting myself straight into a tumbling catastrophe.
From the beginning of the semester, I filled my plate without considering how many hours were in a day. With back to back meetings, club events and more than 10 hours of research a week, I had always started my studies at 10 p.m. at night, much too close to my desirable bedtime. Weekends and Friday nights were set aside for catching up on a backed up schedule; there was just never time and space for myself. I didn’t think about the realistic time commitment, and I definitely didn’t consider the consequences of such a burden. Instead, I only focused on an idealistic, short-term vision. As my advisor had put it: I was spreading myself too thin. Like promises I couldn’t keep, I made too many commitments I couldn’t make.
Not realizing this, all I could think about everyday at every hour for the past few weeks was the horrifying list of empty tasks that awaited completion, further preventing me from accomplishing anything. Unable to prioritize one thing over the other, I was conflicted and didn’t know where to begin. When my thoughts were constantly revolving around tasks that held no substantial meaning or personal importance, I felt the stinging realization that my achievements were no longer genuine.
I didn’t grow from the process nor did I really learn. I was fixated on things that didn’t actually matter, and this dissociation from my core values was what really threw me off balance and into a lifestyle where priorities were nonexistent and where ultimately, nothing really mattered. I was living to cross tasks off in my planner — living to feel the 30-second satisfaction of slashing the assignment with the glide of a pen. In the end, I wasn’t living for myself. Without having set priorities for myself and my wellbeing, my core values were thrown into the mix of trivial tasks and were essentially weighed the same in terms of what personally mattered to me the most.
I snapped out of my mid-assignment daydream and noticed that the clock read 2:05 a.m. I had about three-quarters of a single assignment completed, yet my night was not going to be over anytime soon. It was in that moment where I realized that I was doing something wrong, and the source of the problem was my lack of prioritization or at least I was prioritizing in a way that devalued the beliefs that I strongly identified with. Consequently, I found myself completely engulfed in academics and extracurriculars at the expense of the quality of my health through poor eating and sleeping habits. Normally a typical joke passed back and forth between Cornell students, the severity and reality of three hours of sleep and skipping meals is always drastically understated.
At Cornell, it’s expected to be so overwhelmed with the plethora of opportunities offered. It’s easy to say ‘yes’ to everything without a second thought, scribbling your Net ID left and right during ClubFest. In the end, however, the importance of prioritizing myself became clear. It provides a sense of a stable structure, a voice of reason and a nudge in a positive, upward direction. With clear priorities, the goals are known and within an achievable extent. It also allows me to make my experience at Cornell much more memorable and meaningful. Cornell provided all the possible opportunities I could dream of, but it was ultimately up to me to choose wisely for the sake of my literal sanity.
Unable to recognize myself as the center of it all, I had set myself aside and neglected my well-being like just another task to cross out. But talking to my friends and faculty advisor helped me realize the hole I was digging myself into and inspired me to look at the much larger picture. If I couldn’t put in 100 percent into the commitments I cared about the most, then it was clear that having such commitments only diminished the value of the opportunity itself and its impact on my own self-development. In the end, I was sacrificing more than I needed to, when the solution was actually quite clear and simple. Decisions had to be made, and the right decisions would be those that bring happiness in the process, in the present — especially in the long run.
Nearing 2:30 a.m., I looked down at my incomplete day, the scribbles each carrying the heavy weight of work and demand. And I asked myself, “What’s more important?”, and at this point, the answer was clear. I closed my laptop, packed my bag, and began my trek back home. Despite all the commitments I couldn’t make, I could make one — a commitment to myself.
Alexia Kim is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Who, What, Where, Why? runs every other Monday this semester.