You should do something pointless this weekend

Trying to be efficient all the time can ruin your life

“What are you doing with your life?!” Do you recognize this voice? “Use your free time wisely,” it shouts at you. “Maximize your learning! Develop your workout! Structure your REM cycles!”

The world around you tells you how to make the most of every moment: listen to podcasts on 1.5x speed, exercise more, declutter your closet, maximize your morning routine, spend more time reading, network with everyone you meet, be more involved on campus. “Here are 3 things every successful CEO does every day!” the Internet proclaims. “Don’t forget these 50 Happy/Healthy habits!”

If you’re anything like me, this voice might momentarily propel you to try something new; you might even resolve to “finally get your life together.” Unfortunately, I usually end up with my head in my hands and a sinking feeling in my stomach that I’m not doing enough. Why does this voice fail us so often? Podcasts, networking, cold showers, journaling– these things are good! They do have a place in happy, healthy lives. And using time efficiently– isn’t that a good thing?

life is happening all around you. And you’re missing it.

Take a closer look, and ask yourself: what’s the real goal of all this efficiency? Don’t you stress about cramming every moment with potential because you want to ensure success in your major, your career, and your life? You believe that if you do enough, if you do the right things in the right order, you can avoid failure. And so you make your goal discovering how to live perfectly. In theory, this doesn’t sound so bad; after all, who doesn’t want to live a good life?

In reality, this is a terrible, soul-crushing way to live.

First, since this mindset is completely focused on what you personally need to do to make your life better and ensure your success, it gives you big blinders that keep you from seeing the rest of the world in all its imperfect beauty. While you’re trying to decide which is the healthier of two yogurts or which course will provide you with the most networking opportunities, life is happening all around you. And you’re missing it. The Journey Metaphor is appropriate here: if you’re so focused on sticking to the right road and walking in a straight line, you’ll miss the sky and the birds and the cool people who are walking with you. You’ll forget that the world isn’t actually all about your success or your happiness.

Second, inevitably, you will fail sometime, and when you fail, this mindset will keep you from being gracious with yourself. “After all,” says the voice in your head, “these are minutes, hours and days you can never get back.” And when other people fail, this mindset will keep you from extending grace towards them. This mentality is narrow-minded, self-centered, and harmful to others.

Here’s where the pointless stuff comes in. In the uber-efficiency mentality, free time is something to be feared (because it means you’re not doing enough) or filled (because you want to use each moment to its full potential). Challenge this by doing something just because you want to you want to, something with no foreseeable practical benefits. This could be anything.

Go to a lecture just because it sounds interesting. Find a coloring book and some crayons. While you’re waiting for your next class, sit in the sun instead of pulling out your phone to tackle your email inbox. Reread a book you loved as a kid. Grow a plant in your room. Give to someone who can’t give back to you.

There’s a difference between living perfectly and living well. The first you can never really achieve, but you can waste your life trying. Remind yourself that the world is bigger than your individual success, and that sometimes, doing something materially worthless can be just as important as maximizing that moment.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Emma, awesome article. Refreshing and encouraging.
    You speak directly to a real culture issue at Vanderbilt, and to do so with such perspective and clarity as a freshman is impressive. Most of us just went with the hysteria freshmen year, but you rise above it.
    Props.

  2. Em – Love this piece. It’s pretty funny, for one thing, especially that line about structuring your REM cycles. But you also seem to be on to this weird space in contemporary culture that has us all monitoring ourselves intensely. Fit Bits. GPS watches. Weight loss apps. Treadmill calorie counters. Just to name a few. This incessant self-monitoring is Not So Good. As you argue. Thanks for that. – cem

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