"...sometimes I choose the mountain path, not because I want to climb the mountain, but because the valley path feels like cheating."Ahmed Ashour

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been busy. At secondary school, I had lunchtime clubs four days a week, and after-school clubs three. My holidays were full of organised activities and school projects, my weekends of sports matches and trips to museums. As I grew older, this only accelerated: my weekend reading switched from children’s fiction to the history books on my parents’ shelves, and holiday activities were now chosen for their ‘CV building’ potential and not only for how fun they were. By the time I got to university, one friend identified me as having a ‘pathological hatred of gaps in my schedule.’ We all had a laugh about that. Recently, though, I’ve begun to wonder if this isn’t a quirky trait but rather a programmed response, and one which has the potential to be hugely damaging.

“Slowly, I’m coming to realise that some of my ambitions are not really mine at all.”

Let me begin by saying that I am very privileged to have had the range of opportunities that I had available to me, and the ability to take advantage of them. My school offered a baffling array of extracurricular and super-curricular activities which we were always encouraged to take up. As our Head of Sixth Form put it, the school’s attitude was that ‘the good students are the busy ones’, and they made this easy for us.

I joined the Eco Council, and we were allowed to organise a fete for the whole school. I was interested in debating, and was entered in school competitions all over the country. I was encouraged to do the Duke of Edinburgh Award, and we were granted days off school to do the treks (provided we caught up on our homework of course). The school signed up to online lecture courses that were advertised to us alongside our A Levels; we were even given the opportunity to go to the UN in New York for a week. One term, in Year 13, I had the lowest attendance in my class, despite not taking a single sick day.

A busy life is undeniably a productive one. My CV by the time I left school was extensive, as was my capacity to deal with stress, and my ability to proactively organise my own time. I’ve read a lot of interesting books, and met a lot of lovely people, many of whom I’m still in contact with today. If I had the opportunity to go back and change what I did, would I do less? In all honesty, I’m not sure I would.

I have, however, acquired the unfortunate tendency to say ‘yes’ to everything.

“I have been working on ‘satisficing’: accepting the adequate rather than demanding the best.”

The problem with being busy is that there is always more you can do. There is always another book you could read for your next supervision essay, or a charity which could benefit from your time. And when you’re working from the basis of ‘more is always better’, how do you know when to stop? No one can work at full capacity forever, and I’ve learnt from experience that I do have limits, but I struggle to stop before I reach them. When there are so many exciting things I could do, and so many reasons to do them, how do I justify taking a weekend off to curl up on the sofa and watch Netflix? And even if I do manage to take a break, how do I stop being angry at myself for not using the time ‘more productively’?

Slowly, I’m coming to realise that some of my ambitions are not really mine at all. My upbringing has taught me to climb every mountain I see, and in the process I’ve found that I’m quite a good mountain climber. Certainly you get good views from time to time. It’s just that not every mountain must be climbed by me, and I’ve realised that sometimes I choose the mountain path, not because I want to climb the mountain, but because the valley path feels like cheating. I need to remind myself that the view from quiet valleys can be just as worthwhile. There is a difference, I think, between wanting to achieve something for its own sake, and wanting to achieve it because everyone assumes you will.


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Mountain View

A Case Against Perfectionism

Lately, I have been working on ‘satisficing’: accepting the adequate rather than demanding the best. Sure, it might look good on a CV to be the President of the JCR, or the Faculty Rep for my course, but will it make enough of a practical difference to my life to justify the time commitment? If I only read 7 books for the next essay I write, instead of 8, will my supervisor really care? If I can’t do everything I want to do, then I have to learn how to decide how much is enough. Then, perhaps, I can learn to say ‘no’ to myself.

Being busy has been my life for so long, but I am finally beginning to learn how to rest.

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