Everyone in Oxford seems to be an overachiever, skipping from committee to niche sports team with apparent ease. How can we deal with the reality of feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to enrich our essay-ridden lives?
Relative to the breadth of problems facing Oxford students today, indecision seems rather petty. What is so terrible about having a multitude of opportunities thrown at you left, right and centre? We are certainly fortunate that the kind of problems we are facing tend to be along the lines of which editorial position to apply for, whether or not we have time next term to take on the role of JCR president alongside rowing with the blues team, or if we are willing to prioritise networking at Spirited Discussions over watching the next episode of The Apprentice on Wednesday evenings.
Having all of these as options is wonderful, granted. But therein lies the problem. They are all too wonderful to choose from or narrow down.
Does anyone else remember striding through the freshers fair, notebook and timetable at the ready, noting down every possible society of interest (there were many), until you finally get to the dominos stall at the end and just want to sit there for a few hours and let your body and mind unwind to the taste of pizza? All the enthusiastic people at their stalls seem so convinced that their society is the best; that it provides the friendliest community, the best experience to put on your CV or, in the cases of sport, that it guarantees an enjoyable form of exercise. How is one supposed to prioritise these various considerations?
I for one remember genuinely considering joining the marine reserves, then swiftly reconsidering after a very enjoyable rock climbing session which I then wanted to commit to, all the while knowing I had already sworn allegiance to powerlifting, chapel choir, my role as treasurer on the English society and that other minor occupation: my English and German degree. I was also well aware that I would need to leave a few gaps in my timetable for one-off events, various applications and for downtime or clubbing (usually the former.) It always seemed to me that I could either be healthy and productive, academic and cultured or musical and refined, but none of these all at once.
And, to an extent, that was a fair conclusion on my part. As much as we would all like to be superhumans – congratulations to those of you who are, I would love to hear how you manage it – the reality is that it is unhelpful to set up impossible expectations for ourselves.
What has helped me to establish a more productive mindset is to get rid of these binaries, since ultimately there is no objective way of classifying, qualifying and rating any of our interests, or the effect they have on us. In other words, I stopped thinking about what would make me the most multi-talented version of myself and started to prioritise activities that I knew I would enjoy and that would offer me a refreshing change from academic life. For instance, the reason why I do powerlifting is because I love how immersed I have to be in the moment in order to lift safely and with good form; I can’t be worrying about my essay deadlines or how long Thomas is going to last in BBC’s The Apprentice, which unfortunately did become a constant concern.
Moreover, while being dependent on what can be cooked in a cramped student kitchen, a floor or house dinner party has the benefits of being nourishing, wholesome, and rejuvenating after a week of rushing around trying to meet deadlines. I now regard such events as important commitments in and of themselves, and I would recommend them to anyone who is feeling the effects of a lengthy and arduous term. Last term, I occupied my time by writing a supermarket review which, conveniently, could come in handy in any future wholesome cooking sessions. Most of all, it’s these wholesome domestic activities which I would advise students to prioritise in the middle of Oxford’s hectic and high-pressure environment.