Oberlin Blogs

Be Here Now

October 10, 2014

Andrea Allen ’17

Time budgeting is a challenge. It's annoying and frustrating. I used to spend a lot of my time prioritizing and organizing how I was going to spend the rest of my time. I used to feel like I was wasting time no matter what I was doing because I wasn't doing "the other thing" that I needed to.

I'd work for hours on end and not feel like I accomplished anything. I'd be doing math homework but thinking about other classes, or in class thinking about my math homework. At dinner I'd be thinking about doing my laundry and trying to study for exams while putting away my clothes. Something was not right.

This year, somehow, I've discovered that I have the capacity for serious, specific focus. I have a busy semester and I always have things to do, but somehow, I've been finding myself securely stationed in the present almost all of the time. I want to share a little bit of what that looks like for me this semester for new or incoming students (or everyone, I guess):

CS 150: I'm taking a computer science course this semester. It counts for my math major, but it's also incredibly useful and really cool. In lab, you have to be a hundred percent there. Otherwise you will confuse yourself, mess things up, and not get your code to work. When I focus, I can finish them in a matter of hours and then can do things like play with the colors to make my labs prettier. When I'm in lab, honestly, all I am thinking about is my code. It's weird, because everything else goes away. Any anxiety I have comes from my recursion not working or my picture not displaying. Those are my life's problems, the world's problems, from two-thirty to four-thirty on a Wednesday.

Head Cooking: I live and eat in Keep Co-op, the cozy cottage on N Main Street commonly known as the starter co-op. It can be hectic at times, but it's a great place to live and the food has been great. I head cook Tuesday lunch, which means that for three hours Tuesday mornings I am in the kitchen. I have to be in the present, otherwise I'll light things on fire. Side note: Even when I'm focusing, I still have the tendency to light things on fire. This has never been an issue before for me, and I don't know how I feel about it. Mostly I just feel bad for the oven mitts that are now black and crispy.

Although cooking can be stressful, it's a lot of fun. It's nice to have a responsibility for something non-academic, and it feels really good to see sixty people enjoying a meal that my shift and I made happen. And, like my CS lab, it's actually refreshing to only have to think about potatoes and kale for three hours, the focus and energy clears my head.

Acro: I'm president of the Oberlin Acro Club this year. A sister organization of OCircus, Acro club meets a few times a week on a drop-in basis, although many people are regulars, to teach and learn partner acrobatics. I teach on Thursday nights. For that hour and a half, it doesn't matter if I have an exam the next day or an essay to write, because I have to teach, and I love teaching, so I'm there. I forget about everything outside of the gym and the tumbling mats. I like to stop and think about how far I've come since one year ago, when I started learning acro from other members of the club. I think because I value this opportunity to teach so much, I savor every minute of it. Teaching takes a very different focus and mindset from just coming in for class. I have to be all there, or I won't be able to be a functioning human. I've found that through teaching, I've started to learn more as well. It's a mentally and physically stimulating challenge that I really need at the end of the week.

I don't know how I changed, but I can see the huge advantages that staying in the present has on my workload, performance, and sanity. The only suggestion I can make is to value the quality of your work over the quantity. Telling yourself to sit down for two hours and write as much of a paper as you can is guaranteed to be more productive than trying to tie down your wandering, anxious mind in Mudd for an entire Sunday afternoon and crying until you magically finish.

Last weekend was Yom Kippur, and so I gave myself the Saturday off. I am not particularly religious, but it's one of the Jewish holidays I feel strongly about, and I gave myself the day to reflect. I did not let myself think about the work I needed to do. The next day, I was able to do it all, and still had extra time. Granted, it was probably a light week in terms of workload for me, but I was amazed. Maybe I could take all of Saturday off every weekend...?

Whether or not that's realistic, I've learned a few things this semester so far about my sanity. I am so much more level-headed, and I get so much more out of my day, if I stop worrying so much about what I'm not doing and instead focus on what I am doing.

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