"Rather than hammering out essays in a panic a few hours before the deadline, I have developed healthier working habits"instagram/thecaduceo

Windswept, bleary-eyed and ten minutes late, I collapsed into my seat. It was February, and apparently there was some weird virus going around in China, but my mind was far too cluttered to pay much attention to the news. That day, I’d woken up at 5 to write an essay due at 12. I rewarded myself for submitting a whole 30 minutes before the deadline with a short but much-appreciated nap and had just enough time to grab lunch with a friend before hurtling to two consecutive meetings. And all this on a Saturday.

I knew I was behind on work and my meetings would probably swallow up my afternoon, so, that night, I would probably have to share another all-nighter in the library with my old buddy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Despite my sleep-deprived state, I felt confident. With a few sips of coffee and a dollop of the desperation that accompanies a looming deadline, I would be able to finish my work in time. I reassured myself that I’d then have a free night to go to Sunday Life and salvage my pres-hosting reputation. At this point in Lent term, all that mattered was being done with work as quickly as possible.

"Ironically, I once imagined that studying a heavily literature-based modern languages degree would be characterised by an almost self-indulgent slowness."

This isn’t because I hated my degree - though, given the extent of procrastination, you’d be forgiven for not being able to tell. There is just always so much else to do at Cambridge. Between extracurriculars, nights out, and those ‘all-night pres’ where you inevitably end up sprawled across a friend’s sofa, drunkenly rambling until 4am, who has the time for some quality time with your Russian verb tables? It’s especially hard to set aside that time when you’re haunted by that persistent spectre of student life: the fear of missing out. We’ve all been there: you might have work to do, but even the threat of your supervisor’s stern words doesn’t compare to the much greater dread of being told over brunch “Guess what happened last night! You should have been there!”

The result was that I’d spend several days each week forgetting I even had a degree to do, then would have to finish all my work in one mad rush. Ironically, I once imagined that studying a heavily literature-based modern languages degree would be characterised by an almost self-indulgent slowness. Without needing to spend time on other subjects or tick off assessment objectives while writing essays, I thought I would have more time to really appreciate French and Russian literature, and the mechanisms that made these languages work. In a sense, the whole attraction of MML for me was being able to take my studies slowly, devoting enough mental space to them, in a way that I couldn’t at school. If school was a sprint to the bus stop, university would be a stroll around a scenic lake, where I could focus more on taking in the view along the way than on getting to my destination.

How wrong I was. As well as the stress and feelings of inadequacy often engendered by FOMO, I think it also stops us from enjoying our degrees as much as we could. Languages and literature aren’t the only subjects which you can understand and appreciate better when you take your time to think concepts through. It’s no wonder I didn’t enjoy my subject for two terms, when I was constantly aware that the quicker I finished my work, then the quicker I could reply to that accusatory “where are you??” text with a gleeful “omw!!” reply. It was eerily similar to the joyless race to the end of syllabus content which I felt at school, only now it was self-imposed.


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Mountain View

A love letter to logging off

For me, this has been the unexpected silver lining of quarantine. Lockdown means no rushing to hall from the library before it closes, nor any dashing to Sainsbury’s Local before they stop selling alcohol. There’s no lingering fear that all your friends are out having fun while you bitterly pore over your books alone, because everyone is alone, with only their books for company. Suddenly, the prospect of getting to know Rousseau a bit better doesn’t seem like such a second-rate option. I have neglected him for far too long. With nothing else to do but degree work, I started to take my time over it again. Rather than hammering out essays in a panic a few hours before the deadline, I have developed healthier working habits, spreading my work out throughout the day whilst also making time to relax. I also began to understand concepts better because I made that my priority, even if it took me longer than I hoped. Eventually, I rediscovered why I loved this subject in the first place.

This experience of FOMO-freedom has made me want to try my hardest not to let FOMO invade my thoughts after I move back to Cambridge and its hectic pace resumes once more. It’s difficult, when there’s so much going on – but if you’re going through a fraught relationship with your subject, taking some time to actually work on it might be the way to mend that relationship.