#YOLO, FOMO, and the License to Chill

Posted by at 10:45PM

I dunno, but I’m sure they’d be UNCOMFORTABLY ENERGETIC.

For those of you anticipating a bad joke about refrigerators: you are about to be disappointed.

It never ceases to amaze me how the fast-paced Stanford life has changed my perception of free time.  At the beginning of my freshman year, I was quite honestly astounded by the sheer amount of free time a college student could* enjoy.  Joining Stanford from a competitive prep school, the typical daily schedule for me had been a weighty sandwich of 8 straight classes followed by sports practice(s), music lessons, homework, and then, at some ungodly hour, sleep.  Rinse and repeat, injecting standardized testing and college apps as necessary.  Frankly, I’m not sure how I pulled it off, and if I could bottle Kristi Work-Ethic ’08 and sell it as an energy drink, believe me, I would.  (“Your babies will find partial derivatives as fast as KENYANS!!”)

What changed?  Suddenly 2-3 generously spaced courses per day became the norm.  We became the masters of our own schedules.  What freedom, what bliss!  What… perfectly sized holes into which to insert extracurriculars!

Optimizers that we Stanford students are, we felt compelled to fill the voids.  Brimming, bursting, busting at the seams, with our color-coded Google calendars representing a neon patchwork of schedule conflicts.  (If the time-turner actually existed, Stanford would be its target market.)   This attitude, this lifestyle, has commoditized our free time.  Both I and my peers have used the phrase “maximize the fun” non-ironically.  Every spare moment stands on trial for its life as we nervously check the time on our iPhones.  Optimize the relaxation!  Attend ALL THE PARTIES!

When did we forget how to relax?

I generally don’t take personality quizzes seriously.  But when the class cabinets underwent a personality test at the beginning of this school year, and a good 80% of the senior class cabinet manifested the “achiever” trait, I took notice.  The “achiever” description was, at least for me, uncomfortably accurate.  As the horoscope-esque prediction read, accomplishment drives us and, too often, that turns our lives into great, big to-do lists.  This checklist mentality can make free time hard to rationalize.  What are you getting done?  What are your objectives?  If an activity doesn’t have a tangible end result, it becomes more challenging to fit into our master plans.  And that’s too bad.

And to think your HumBio prof claimed that modern medicine had halted natural selection….

The acronyms speak truth.

As a sibling of mine reminds me all too often, “#YOLO.”  You only live once, for those who have been spared the ravages of the hashtag revolution.  I’ve seen this phrase used to justify some really stupid things online (“Eating a scorpion!  #YOLO!”, “Will this bungee hold?  Who knows!  #YOLO”), and in some instances #YOLO has actually caused fiery deaths.

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the #YOLO phenomenon.  But its more high-brow interpretation is a valid one: Carpe Diem!  This is our only shot at the opportunity, insanity, adventure, and chaos that is Stanford, so we have to maximize it.  Couple this vigorous day-seizing with FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out), and you’ve got a powerful cocktail for overachieving… even at free time.

Out, damned spot.  

I’ve been playing the overachieving game for as long as I can remember.  It’s exhausting, it’s unreasonable, but most importantly it makes me underachieve at the important things: being a good sister, friend, roommate, girlfriend, daughter… all the things that really matter.  I’m tired of being a Stanford Duck, and I suspect I’m not the only one.  Fellow mallards: you’re not alone.

With the pending Thanksgiving break, it’s a good time to reevaluate priorities and figure out what’s really most important in our lives.  Have I forgotten how to relax?  Maybe.  But it’s not too late to remember you don’t have to be MI-6 to have the license to chill.

* assuming all you ever do is classes.  This, however, is a wildly unlikely scenario.

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