Pride fueled my strut out of Morrill 111. With a finished problem set in hand and bags under my eyes, I had just pulled off my first homework all-nighter. I celebrated the occasion with a hike down the Slope and a West campus breakfast. After all, while my fellow classmates slept, I worked.
Impressed and gratified for completing this seemingly underground Cornellian rite of passage, I would heroically describe my feat barely fighting back a smile — only to resign to collapsing eyelids later that morning. While fellow classmates went to class that day, I slept.
I woke to the sound of my roommate unlocking our door. The light was still on from the then-distant moment I had decided to just briefly lay my head. Through a haze of confusion, one thing was certain: I had far overslept what was only supposed to be a 20-minute nap. As I laid hungover from sleeplessness, the morning’s premature fulfillment seeped from my ego. Beyond a slew of overslept classes loomed a greater beast: my unhealthy routine. A night’s worth of perceived progress left me idle and punished for completing what I had assumed to be natural. I was too blind to recognize my mistake.
The week before, I aimlessly shuffled stress management cards across my desk in an advising seminar. “Mindfulness”: the last thing on my mind during prelim season. Next. “Meditation”: impossible with essay deadlines looming. Next. “Sleep”: expendable. As I watched the clock tick the remainder of the period, I was convinced I had more important things to worry about. Really, I was just reinforcing my own corrupted mentality. I put my workload on a pedestal, quick to slide everything else off my seminar desk and out of my mind.
Yet my lack of enthusiasm in seminar is only a microcosm of the bigger picture: our distorted perception of well-being makes us dismissive of mental health. In turn, the practicality of mindfulness has become foreign to others like myself. Ironically enough, those same cards I happily flicked off my seminar desk returned to haunt the Cocktail Lounge later that night. I was surrounded on all sides by yawns, coffee and deadlines.
As such, especially in this community bubble, the propagation of stress cannot be divorced from personal well-being. If shouldering more work has become a symbol of respect, we must also consider what we as a community believe to be normal. If the ability to work nonstop is an idealized status, then perhaps normal and healthy are two very different things here. At times, it’s easy to forget what the latter even looks like.
So as we navigate our way through Mental Health Awareness Week, keep first things first: We cannot discuss steps toward mental well-being before we redefine what it means on this campus. Echoing zen buzzwords doesn’t solve any of our problems. Neither does exchanging Cornell Health phone numbers we already have. Change starts with recognizing we are both the victims and culprits of a larger culture crisis: the glorification of busy.
In the present climate, more impressive than shouldering a heavy workload is stooping to dire means in the process. As a result, we equate greater sacrifice with devotion. Late nights spent studying are admirable. The later you’re awake, the more impressive. It’s for these reasons we compare bedtimes with our classmates (which are often not applicable the night before the due date). It’s for these reasons a Cornellian rarely goes through a day without parroting that the “grind never stops.”
We are culturally encouraged to boast about our late night sufferings for clout, which worsens our unhealthy routines and prompts others to pick them up. In this regard, the proliferation of an already broken status quo often stems most from our influence on fellow students — and vice versa. Through this contagious spread, we internalize the belief that more work always translates into greater progress; our culture’s reverence of busy blurs our ability to tell the difference. We fail to realize we’re trapped in the first place and are left stuck in this loop. Our mental well-being crisis lies within our inability to diagnose it.
As such, we remain convinced that boasting heavy workloads makes us more accomplished; the higher the risk we take, the higher the reward we receive in impressing others. On our campus, stress yields clout.
So before we remedy our well-being crisis, let’s first disassemble our more work-more reward mindset altogether. Let’s stop glorifying the all-nighter, and not blindly praise “the grind.” To redefine progress at Cornell, let’s take busy off its pedestal.
Roei Dery is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Dery Bar runs every other Thursday this semester.