Albion College students are notorious for their long email signatures, and they’re not afraid to admit it. It’s a running joke on Albion’s campus that students’ email signatures are probably longer than any given email they send. As students, we laugh because we know it’s true. We’re involved in everything, and our signatures showcase that.
“My email signature is an entire paragraph,” said Courtney Lamrouex, a junior from Saginaw, Mich.
But how long is too long when it comes to an email signature? How much involvement is too much?
On a campus like Albion’s, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that everything is small. The campus itself, as well as the groups, clubs and organizations on it, are fairly small in the grand scheme of things, both in life and in comparison to larger schools and universities.
Involvement might start off small, that’s true. But things pile up. Responsibilities become larger. Commitment of time, effort and energy grows. Soon, our dedication to the programs we’re involved in becomes bigger than we are.
Easy for me to say, given the fact that I’m 5’3. It’s not hard for something to be bigger than I am. But all jokes aside, this issue goes farther than an email signature that takes some extensive scrolling to get to the bottom of. The biggest issue, when it comes to those email signatures, is not how much space they take up on a page, but rather how much space they take up in students’ minds.
“People I know that are involved in a lot of things are always saying, ‘I don’t have time for things,’ or ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to get this done?’ or ‘I’m in over my head,’” said Eric Braun, a senior from Huntington Woods, Mich. “It’s just stress, stress, stress.”
Inevitably, one of the factors that might add to the stress and pressure to “do the most” is the constant exposure to others’ lives on social media. Scroll through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and tell me you don’t feel pressure to do more based off the lives your peers present to you through the eyes of a screen.
I won’t lie: I definitely feel like I’m not doing enough when I look at social media and find out that one guy who went to my high school (that I for some reason still follow) got an internship in D.C. Or maybe I’ll see that one girl who didn’t even go to college that managed to start her own business. She’s out there in the world making money while I’m watching my student debt pile up before my eyes (but that’s another issue entirely, so we won’t get into it).
The point is, when we see peers out there in the world “doing the most,” we feel the need to do more. And more. And more, until we can’t handle a single other thing. What happens then? What happens when we’ve piled so much weight on our shoulders that we’re crouching way down below it, struggling to hold it up?
For a while, the weight may not feel like much that much. It’s like lifting weights. The first couple repetitions are easy. You’re cruising along, barely breaking a sweat. But each repetition becomes increasingly more difficult, whether you add weight or not. And if you are adding weight, that difficulty multiplies.
Think of each activity as a weight. How many would you pick up if you could see the size of the responsibilities you were choosing to carry? Probably not nearly as many.
Plenty of research has been done on campus involvement, and plenty of research has been done on anxiety. Little research, however, has been done on how one impacts the other.
Current psychological studies on this topic mainly measure student campus involvement with overall campus satisfaction. While this might be an interesting connection, it fails to address that students can be satisfied with the programs their campuses offer while also being overwhelmed by their direct involvement in said programs.
When applying for jobs, companies like to see involvement and leadership on a resume. So, the more the merrier, right? And then there’s the social media aspect, which normalizes not only the fact that seemingly everyone is out there in the real world succeeding, but that overwhelming stress is an inevitable, manageable part of that.
As students, we’ve been conditioned for so long to think that being involved in as much as possible is a good thing. And it is, until it isn’t.
“Students overextend themselves to start,” said Braun. “Hopefully, eventually they find themselves.”
Colleges like Albion, small liberal arts schools, are unique in the fact that they offer opportunities for students to get involved in so many different campus organizations. And, for that particular reason, the type of students these colleges attract are the types of students who want to do it all.
We can’t do it all, though.
With only 24 hours in a day and seven days in each week, there’s only so much involvement students can take on. At a certain point, schedules fill up, eliminating any chance of downtime or relaxation, two components which are essential to leading a balanced, healthy, happy lifestyle.
The beauty of getting involved and having so many opportunities is that we, as students, don’t necessarily have to stay involved in everything we once were a part of. Yes, you might feel obligated to stay in a certain program because you made a commitment, but remember that your primary obligation is to yourself. If that group no longer benefits and serves you, why stay in it?
“My freshman and sophomore years I way overextended myself,” said Lamrouex. “The end of last year and this year I’ve found what I want to do.”
Although we’re often taught that having fewer programs and activities on a resume is a bad thing, that’s not always the case. Some companies would prefer to see students really digging in and taking on leadership positions in one program than seeing moderate commitment to many different activities that students didn’t have the time to fully commit to. Resumes aren’t always a way to show how much you can do, but rather how well you can do something.
College is a time to explore, dig in, and find your passions. If you want to try to take on leadership positions in certain organizations, that might mean dropping some of the activities that are less important to you. That’s okay. You’re not letting anyone down, especially if your reasoning for dropping some of these things is to lessen your own anxiety.
“It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to overextend yourself when you first get here and try new things,” said Braun. “But you can’t stick with things you don’t like that much.”
But if your campus involvement is making you feel overly stressed, your body is trying to tell you something. It’s trying to keep you safe, because believe it or not, there’s danger in doing it all.