If I were to add up all of the time I spend thinking about which classes I want to take in future terms, I’m fairly certain it would add up to an amount of time not dissimilar to how much time I spend on assignments for some of my classes. Scrolling through the website of departments I’ve never taken a class in, I divide many of the classes into the categories of “ooh, I want to take that” or “that looks interesting, but I probably won’t actually take that.” Some of those classes have prereqs that I lack, some are more difficult classes than I probably should take in a department I know very little about, but many of them would be entirely doable. But, of course, major requirements need to be filled and there are other things that look more interesting, so I inevitably won’t take all of these classes.
And that’s ok. I realize there’s a limited number of classes I can take, and while I certainly like the idea of taking that 300-level Ed Studies class on some very interesting topic, I also recognize that I probably won’t. I’ve accepted that this is an unavoidable problem: nothing is going to change the fact that I’m interested in a lot of different things, and unfortunately, I don’t think the Academic Standing Committee would approve a petition for me to overload by taking around ten different classes per term. So instead, I choose the classes that look the most interesting in addition to the ones I need to take for various reasons, and I accept that I won’t get to take everything I want to.
This, however, leaves me with the question of where my excitement about all of my classes goes as the term goes on. There aren’t many classes that I’ve taken that I haven’t looked forward to, but for many of them, by the end of the term, I find myself disappointed by the length of some of the readings and dreading writing the essays that I knew I’d have to write when I signed up for the class. And I don’t know why that is, but there has to be a reason.
I’m going to generalize and say that this is a collective problem because I’ve talked to a lot of people who have experienced this and thus far no one who hasn’t. I realize that there may be people who feel differently, and I’m happy for them. But I know that I, for one, have more trouble motivating myself to do assignments toward the end of term, and I think this is a fairly universal experience.
As I’ve thought of why this is, a few different possibilities have occurred to me. Maybe what drew me to the classes was that they were new, and so by the end of term, when they stop being new, they become less exciting. But I don’t think that’s the case for two reasons. First, I’ve been familiar with the subjects of a lot of my classes before taking the classes, and I’ve enjoyed learning about these subjects even after the classes have ended, so I’m quite certain it’s not just the novelty that’s appealing. And second, I don’t even think the subject material does become less exciting. I realize this makes my title seem like a misnomer, but I don’t think it is
My excitement about my class subjects doesn’t go anywhere, but for some reason, my motivation to do my homework does. I will argue that it’s not my motivation so much as my excitement, but I realize that’s a controversial argument. I’ve never looked at a book I’m planning to read and thought it was way too long if it was something I’m interested in: why should readings for classes be any different? I refuse to count how many hours I spend on the Carletonian, and I voluntarily write a number of articles that I don’t absolutely have to, but somehow, that feels completely different than writing an essay. I realize there are differences, particularly because I write mostly Viewpoints and don’t tend to include statistics. And admittedly, most of my professors probably wouldn’t count my research for articles such as this one as formal enough to use in an essay. But the fundamental act of researching a topic that theoretically I should care about and writing a predetermined amount about it is exactly the same between this and writing an essay.
I’ve heard the argument that one is voluntary and the other isn’t, but I disagree with that. I voluntarily write for the Carletonian. Sometimes, particularly when I’m rushing to finish an article right before the deadline, I question why, but there’s really very little argument that I’m not choosing to write this article, or any of the others. But the same is true of essays. I knew when I signed up for a Writing Rich class that it might, in a shocking turn of events, involve writing. And yes, there’s a requirement that I take a certain number of Writing Rich classes, but I’ve fulfilled that already. And, more relevantly, I also made a choice to come to Carleton. I intentionally chose a college where I knew that students are expected to take their classes seriously. And I chose what classes I would take based on what I would enjoy learning about. So by all measures, I am voluntarily choosing to need to write my essays.
I think this issue revolves around a few different problems. The first is the way that we talk about classes. I wrote at the end of last term about how we talk about time here and, specifically, that we need to stop talking about where we are in the term and how soon things are ending, and how the system of identifying dates by their weeks contributes to this. I’ve thought about that a lot this term — I no longer include week numbers in my class notes and at this point only use that in my list of what papers I have due each week, I avoid talking about how soon Winter Term is ending (it turns out that if you do this you need to be careful to not make decisions about when to leave campus much later than you meant to) and I have tried to set aside more time with friends in which I don’t think about homework. (I’m still working on this, but I’m trying.) These things have helped, and I would absolutely recommend them. But the problem of classes getting to be exhausting by the end of term even though they’re interesting and I want to learn about the course material still remains.
I think there’s a lot of conversation around how much work we have and how terrible and stressful the amount of work that we have is, and I think this isn’t helpful. I think starting readings from the mindset of just needing to get through them makes them much less interesting than starting with the view that I could enjoy this. I’ve enjoyed writing some of my recent essays, and one thing I realized is that the essays I’ve enjoyed are the essays where I’ve let myself get distracted by research, spending too much time reading reports and sources after I’ve realized I don’t technically need them just because they’re interesting. I’ll argue that that’s not too much time, and that I dislike the idea of spending too much time on interesting things, but that’s an issue for another day. I think optimism will help, but I don’t think it addresses the main problem.
Because I think, by the end of each term, the reason I have trouble convincing myself to just write my essays is because I am absolutely exhausted. I’m exhausted by the amount of work we have. I’m exhausted by the number of things I have to do. I’m exhausted by the fact that it feels like I’m wasting time when I sleep in (this is not ideal, but I’ve already addressed that in the article I previously mentioned). The essays I’ve enjoyed writing are the essays that I’ve written as a way to procrastinate my other homework without feeling guilty. And I think that’s because if I’m writing an essay to procrastinate a more stressful homework assignment, I’m not thinking about the essay as being as stressful because my stress is focused elsewhere. Stress is tiring, and I think we need to find a way to avoid that stress and exhaustion that inevitably comes by the end of each term because that’s why we stop wanting to do assignments. An item on a to-do list is just an item. An item on a to-do list that feels like it’ll never end and that I know I won’t finish in the timeline I planned to because I was too ambitious when I made the to-do list is a source of stress. I don’t know how to avoid this, but something needs to be done.
We need to stop simply accepting that Carleton is tiring and the workload is too much. I’m convinced the workload is manageable. I’m convinced that my classes are still fun and that I still want to learn all of the things that I can. And there has to be a way for us not to be too exhausted at the end of term to realize that and to remember that we’re here for a reason, and that theoretically, our classes are supposed to be fun.
Reading this definitely made me stop and think about my attitude toward classes. I relate with so much of what you said–I also look forward to most of my classes, and even while I’m in them I acknowledge that a lot of them are interesting, even really interesting. And even with less interesting classes (for this term looking at intro stats), I can find things that are cool and things to appreciate and be proud of my work sometimes. But at the same time, I get so exhausted too, and it’s so easy to just be thinking about all the things I have to do next and how long the readings are and how long that essay has to be, and how much sleep am I willing to sacrifice for this or that assignment or event? And I really relate to things getting stuck as just to-do list items. The best way I have right now to deal with that is to try to let myself engage in whatever I’m doing and not just think about finishing it, and maybe that makes it take longer, but maybe (at least for assignments; I’m not good at it but readings can be skimmed) trying to rush just makes it harder to think, and that makes it take longer instead. I think all this also connects to the larger conversation about mental health that needs a lot more institutional action, but maybe in our own attitudes and how we talk to each other, we can try to point out the positive that’s really there, not so we stop talking about the negative, but so we can maybe talk about it in context and in more useful ways.