Though high school is now history, and the pressure from the university application process has long dissipated, the philosophy of “keeping yourself involved” and “having a stellar CV” is still very much embedded in everything that I do. In the past, this mindset has often urged me to join numerous activities and constantly be on the lookout for the next big opportunity. It was not until recently that I started to turn the corner and become a more critical investor of my time. Ever since first year, I have been a loyal attendee of Freshers’ Fayres. Hustling from booth to booth, signing up for societies that seemed remotely interesting, speaking about available committee positions: these were my equivalents of a kid shopping in a candy store. The fayres would be followed by frequent email notifications, event sign-ups on Facebook, and society meetings. Not long would it take for my Google calendar to be filled with different columns of events, neatly coloured and categorised into classes, group meetings and pub crawls.
For quite a long time I enjoyed waking up in the morning, looking at my calendar and realising that I had a packed day ahead. This feeling of being productive and involved is shared among many peers at St Andrews. It’s not rare to pass by someone and hear “I’ve got a group meeting before, but Learning to quit and focus on what you want I’ll see you then,” or “are you coming to our social tonight?” Life at St Andrews has never been boring, and yet as time passed by, the activities that once made me eager gradually lost their charms.
I became more reluctant to participate in certain group meetings and projects. “Will we make any progress today? Would my being there contribute? Would I at least enjoy it?” As I found myself asking these questions every time I left my cozy flat for an event, I became more critical of the things that I had been doing. While initially they furthered my goals and gave me a sense of accomplishment, over time my activities became burdens that persistently needed justification.
As it naturally goes, not all societies
are equally goal-oriented and congenial in nature. Some lack a common purpose, fail to commit to tasks, or simply are not as efficient as could be. While not all activities are meant to yield meaningful results, somehow I also came to find many of them dull. I would rather be spending my time by doing something else. I tried to hold on for a while, coming up with all sorts of encouragement to keep at it. “Perhaps a networking opportunity will come up,” or “maybe this project will lead to new friendships,” but as time went by, none of these justifications proved to be worthwhile.
I gradually decided to put a halt to my disappointment. At first, I quit the activities that seemed to be going nowhere. Since I now had more time to spend on productive tasks, this was not too difficult. Yet there were other commitments with a purpose that somehow still left me feeling unfulfilled.
Quitting these sorts of activities was harder, as at the time I thought that self discipline and dedication were more important than personal happiness. Nevertheless, the passage of time once again rendered my justifications futile. Without true excitement, I was not able to whole-heartedly contribute to these projects, at the cost of feeling emotionally drained. I ended up quitting more than half of the things that I was involved in, leaving myself with only a few that I deeply cared about. Across the board, quitting certainly carries a negative connotation.
Quitters are associated with a lack of strength, respect for others, and respect for yourself. We were taught to be involved, to be dedicated, to tough it out. Yet, without critical assessment, these beliefs can easily lead us astray. Not all costs are worth it. At the end of the day, not all activities will bring equal personal growth or joy. Similarly, when we put our efforts into the wrong place, little value is produced, despite how great our intentions may be. I have personally experienced volunteer events after which I regretted wasting my time, since I was not able to help much. It is important that we reflect on what we do, why we do it, and what that brings.
Quitting has had a profound impact on my life. My Google calendar is no longer full of coloured time blocks, and I no longer run from meeting to meeting. Instead, I have more personal time to work on my skills of interest, focus on the important tasks at hand, or simply reflect and rejuvenate, which in turn nourishes my creativity. I used to believe that busy times are paramount to productive times, and as a university student I should make the most out of all opportunities given. I have now realised that free time is better than time spent being miserable. Although I still believe that we should take advantage of the resources given, I also learned the hard way to evaluate all opportunities fairly to distinguish the good from the bad and thereby invest time wisely.
Learning to let go is not easy, especially when it comes to the offers that help bring a sense of purpose and peer recognition. However, as important as self-validation is, so are contentment and intrinsic motivation. I no longer have to drag my heavy feet to the things that psychologically weighed me down. My focus and efforts are well-spent towards the activities that matter to me. Unbeknownst to the public eye, I did not quit because I gave in to hardship. I quit to give myself the opportunity to do what I love and to love what I do.