I have always been fascinated by water. This fascination exists within a duality of forces: a peaceful attraction and a terrifying hesitance. I have lived by water my whole life, feeling an instant ease by the lakeside. At the same time, however, I have experienced pure fear at the thought of what exists below the surface.
Water is one of the most powerful forces on earth, conquering life and leaving devastating destruction. Yet, every living creature needs it to survive.
At its best, water exists in pure balance. As do humans.
This morning, I strolled out of my last final exam of my college career. I had finished. I pushed through the heavy glass doors of the academic building that housed the exam, entered the sunshine, and felt a lightness. But there was something else – an internal sentiment tugging the ends of my joy.
I was tired. I am, I then realized, tired.
The past four years, like those for most college students, were formative. I found amazing souls, whom I now call my friends, studied hard, went to some parties, studied abroad, created work that I was proud, and not so proud, of, and embarked on a type of soul searching that only a young twenty-something experiences.
Within the threads of this woven experience, however, I cultivated perhaps my most cherished value: balance.
Avoiding specifics, I am a hard-working, life-living person. I do believe myself to be exceptionally balanced. This, however, was achieved by wrestling with a culture that encourages me to not be.
University, especially in the United States, is a culture of excess. Students study to excess, work to excess, eat to excess, drink to excess. Excess of stress causes excess of consumption. Excessive tuition prices and student loans cause excess work hours outside of school. And this excess creates a deficit in other essentials: sleep, self-care, time with friends, adventures, exercise, outdoor time, and self-expression. We are sedentary, creatively-oppressed, sleep-deprived, depressed, anxious creatures running ourselves into the ground – all for a piece of paper stating that we are suddenly good enough.
I am guilty of excess. I have, at certain points, been a full participant in the work too hard, play too hard, crash too hard culture. My mind and body resented me. And now, with empathy, it breaks my heart to see my peers living in the library, under draining florescent lights, necks craned to accommodate the tilt of their laptop screens. Is there a way to achieve and avoid sunken eyes, caffeine sweats, emotional detachment and sore necks?
Perhaps the solution is a reconstruction of our definition of achievement. Perhaps it will take a pure reprioritization. We, as a culture, need to find balance in order to uncoil the environment of excess we have created. And, as with anything, this starts with the individual.
How will you give yourself balance?