How busy do you want to be?
When I entered university, I was full of hope. I consulted my seniors and received a lot of advice from my parents and relatives. I was all prepared to do my loved ones proud.
At the end of my four years, I think I have achieved what I wanted. Grades, leadership experiences, exchange, internship and a full-time job offer. I can’t ask for more, can I?
But I still find something is missing. Now in my final semester, I feel a sense of emptiness. I have always been busy, too busy with too many things. Yes, my resume looks good, in fact, unbeatable, but what about my life in general? I’m like a train approaching its final station, slowing down after a long journey of tough trip. I don’t want to slow down. I don’t want to stop achieving!
And the same time, I also realize that I may have missed some beautiful scenery along the way when I was running the train in full speed. What happened to the mountains and lakes that my friends were talking about? Don’t seem to remember them. I only knew reaching one station after another, trying to be the first.
I recently learnt a phrase called ‘insecure overachievers’. That describes me so precisely! Such a group of people always feel inadequate because there are always better ones out there. They are always achieving, or the mere act of achieving something makes they feel secure: after all, we are always improving.
There needs to be a different way of living, one that is not measured merely by achievements commonly defined. And that idea reminds me of three people.
Pursuing your intellectual interests
I have a classmate who wants to be a scholar in her field of study. She plans to further her studies in a premium institution in the US. Whenever you see her, most likely she will be spending her time reading books in the library, doing experiment in the lab or having a chat with her professors.
For me, her life is too simple, too un-achieving. How can one just study and read books? But I just learnt she published her first article in a well known international journal and has represented university in many undergraduate research conferences. She’s under the spotlight.
Your CCA could mean more to you
Another friend of mine is very into dancing. MJ is his passion. He has been the President for his club for two years (because he’s too good). He is not only involved in his own dancing club, but also the dancing industry in general. He knows a lot of good dancers in Singapore and even teaches in a local school.
He told me that he doesn’t mind doing this full-time. What’s better than getting paid well for doing what interests you? Your CCA could be developed into your career.
Find your highlight outside your University
At the same time, I also remember one of my juniors. I once gave him my advice on how to build his resume by doing the ‘right things’, but he didn’t follow my advice, for a good reason. Instead of spending his time joining competitions and so on, he spent most of his spare time taking care of his brother who was recovering from illness.
It took his brother whole two years to recover and I have always been touched by his devotion. For two years, he would be rushing back home after school and sometimes even skipped some lectures to go to hospital. Helping his brother recover is probably his greatest, and dearest, achievement that no one can claim.
What I’ve learnt from them
And their experiences remind me of the things that I may have neglected. I haven’t had heart to heart talk with my parents for a long time. I haven’t touched that piano for a long time because it is too time consuming to practice music (I could better spend the time revising for exams). I haven’t been to a lot of new places in Singapore and I’m as foreign to some new hangout spots as some of my international friends who just came here.
All along, I believed that I have the best university life and my friends should follow in my footstep. Afterall, that’s how you get all the interviews. Seeing what I have left out along the way, I found out that my university life is not as good as I thought.
Probably those are sceneries I missed along the way. But to enjoy those sceneries would necessarily mean slowing down and achieving less. Do I regret for not slowing down? Not quite. I still love the idea of having a stellar resume and being regarded as a role model.
I guess my experiences in the past few years has just shown me that there is more than one way of living, and choosing one lifestyle would necessarily mean sacrificing another. Making tradeoff is the constant reality of life. One thing for sure, my way of living out university is not the best way and there is no one-size-fits-all template to doing so.
Choosing an ‘achieving’ lifestyle would mean sometimes feeling helplessly busy and even empty inside. Choosing an ‘academic’ lifestyle would mean occasional loneliness. Choosing a life devoted to someone else would mean less praise from people around, as such devotion may be quiet and inconspicuous.
So the burden is on you to decide what kind of life you want to live. And we all need to recognize the imperfection of choice: we can’t have everything in one lifestyle.
As a result, conviction in your choice becomes important. We can’t live three kinds of lifestyle at the same time. We also can’t keep switching. We stand for nothing if we chase after everything.
If you are running your train faster, be proud of your speed. If you are running your train at a slower pace, relish the small enjoyments along the way. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
The secret? Just be contented.
This author studies mechanical engineering at NUS. Not living up to the name of his major, he is never a mechanical person. He plays music as well as sports. He studies machines as well as literature. Having a busy lifestyle as he said, he sleeps for five hours every day. Now that he is graduating, he will be joining an international oil&gas company as a sales analyst.