The 21st Century Time Crunch
In college, we are all victims to the time crunch. Whether it’s leaving a show half-finished, stressing over plans going off schedule, or spending too much time making dinner, there is a serious search for the allusive free hour, or even free minute. I mean, have you ever talked to an engineering student? They wouldn’t know a free minute if it fell down over them in a hail storm — that’s the kind of time crunch I’m talking about.
And that’s the problem. Without a respectable amount of free time to grow and develop, we’re becoming stunted versions of ourselves. These versions on our résumé’s and Facebook profiles — star students, successful businesspeople, social climbers. Meanwhile, in our pursuit of all this, we are losing ourselves. We are forgetting to look at what happens when we don’t have time to form an identity away from our studies or the “9-to-5 grind.”
Then again, some people might argue, why you can’t make time to do both? Plenty of people work part-time as college students (especially at Northeastern University, where I go to school) or maintain a lively engagement in their extracurriculars, social plans, and hobbies. Obviously it’s not impossible, so maybe none of this is really a concern. Personally, I don’t agree. It is a concern. Not because people can’t handle it, but because for many, they don’t even realize when their work-life balance starts to feel unbalanced, like a teetering scale of consequences with minimal reward.
I’d be surprised if you could tell me you didn’t recently hear someone say, “sorry, I can’t. I’m really busy this week.” And then say it again the next week. Or, “I’ve barely seen anyone for days. I’ve been drowning in work.” Or, “I don’t remember the last time I went to the gym.” Or, “I like being busy. It makes me happy.” All of these statements and many others like them are inherently problematic when used in excess. If you’re hearing or using them often, it likely means you feel unbalanced or restless. At times like these, it can be easy to slip away from your core values. After all, if we don’t have time for things like socializing, exercising, or working on personal projects, how are we ever going to get in touch with ourselves and our desires?
Think about all the things that you claimed had “piled up” when quarantine hit. Suddenly, you were a free bird. No more endless weeks at work. No more excessive plan-making. No more days spent running from place to place and person to person. Just time. Never-ending, glorious, peaceful time. It was incredible. With all this time, it felt like you come finally become someone. Not an overworked student or employee or parent, but you in your natural state.
And I’m guessing that when you became you again, a stunning realization took place. Perhaps you had been led to believe it was better to bury yourself in the time crunch, rather than break away from it. Perhaps it was better to listen to what society defined success or happiness as instead of listening to yourself.
The time crunch is all-consuming, and it’s designed that way on purpose. Pressed against deadlines so tight we lose our breath, and calendars so packed we can’t find a second for social plans, we sign away our lives to a society that values us for labels more than personality. And while it’s difficult to realize, I dare say this revelation is crucial to our chance at true, lasting happiness.
If not for quarantine, I probably wouldn’t be writing all this right now, which truly scares me. I’m afraid just how long it would have taken me to realize the importance of putting yourself and your values first. Society is great at keeping its time crunch machine running, but you don’t have to spend everyday being a cog.
Me, feeling free (Glenview, IL, 2020).
Remember that list of things you always put off? Well, I dare you to stop putting them off. Get together with those old friends, or go crazy and do something alone. Talk a walk that’s too long (on purpose). Make dinner and then make dessert. Let go of who everyone is telling you to be, and take a moment to be you, free of labels and responsibilities. It might just change your life.