The first day of my freshman year at Elon University, President Emeritus Leo Lambert welcomed my class. He encouraged us to take advantage of all the opportunities here and get out of our comfort zones. “You have arrived at a great banquet. Don’t make yourself a bologna sandwich,” he said in his speech at new student convocation. That metaphor, used year after year, is household wisdom amongst Elon students young and old.
If you were like me my freshman year, you had so much free time in the first week of school that you didn’t know what to do with it. Itching to get involved, I looked to fill my plate with a variety of options from the banquet: something fun, something rewarding, something that I had never tried before.
The day of org fair, the Elon banquet was literally set right in front of me. In Young Commons, more than 200 entrées were made easily accessible; the seasoned members of each club or activity were waiting for a young, curious new mind to show interest.
Similar to me as a freshman, you probably signed up for about 25 different orgs, wanting to expand your horizons and try new things at Elon. My long, empty days were quickly scheduled down to the minute with interest meetings, introductory workshops, and volunteer opportunities from all of these different organizations.
After the first week I was happy with myself. I definitely avoided making a bologna sandwich. But after the second week of having absolutely no down time, putting sleep and schoolwork on the backburner, I realized I made a different mistake, one that’s all too common amongst Elon students: I overfilled my plate.
By nature of it’s programming, Elon attracts the sort of curious, high-achieving students who want to get involved in their communities, be leaders in following their passions and work to change the world. There’s an emphasis on extracurricular involvement on our campus because the target Elon student is eager to take school outside of the classroom and learn through experience.
Having so many opportunities with so many bright young minds eager to take them has produced unexpected negative effects. There’s an unhealthy culture of over-involvement on campus, where it’s seen as normal amongst students to overfill their plates.
It’s gone so far that over the years I’ve heard people brag about how little sleep they get – as if it’s a competition. If I want to see certain friends, I have to make a Google calendar appointment with them for lunch two weeks out. So many students let their excessive involvement hurt their mental health and social lives.
Elon is a community of overachievers, who got here by saying yes to the opportunities and challenges that got put in our paths. It’s a great trait of successful people, but we need to learn something even more valuable to us in the long run: to be better at saying no.
If you are indeed like me my freshman year, and signed up for 25 different clubs at org fair, I encourage you to go to all of them. Try something completely new or different. At least once.
Take the next few weeks as an opportunity to learn about what you like and what you don’t, then start cutting down. Remember that ultimately, the quality of your education is just that: a quality, not a quantity. As the semester continues, classes will only get harder, and orgs will only get more time-consuming.
It’s OK to sample all of the foods at the banquet; in fact, I encourage it. But when you go back for seconds, the portions get larger, and you need to make sure they can still fit comfortably on your plate.