Celina Timmerman-Care Free

Prioritizing Oneself

The average Emory student’s life is, for lack of a better word, extreme. We’re an extreme university that looks for holistically balanced students, which means the things we’re involved in are all at urgent levels of importance. Clubs have deadlines for you, classes have assignments, sports have demands, social lives have pressing matters, but they’re all on an equal level in regard to what comes first; in other words, what task do we prioritize? 

A lot of people will offer different answers to this question. A studious type might tell you that, obviously, school work needs to come before all else. Someone on a sports team might be shocked at the idea of anything besides his or her sport taking the front seat. Your club president might be appalled if a deadline for a paper beats out a deadline for a club task. The messages we’re receiving on all ends conflict with one another and it makes it hard to actually decide what’s important. 

We’ve been taught, likely from a young age, that giving ourselves to others, pushing ourselves to our limits, and being productive are all things that we are capable of. In an environment that’s already as demanding as Emory, however, this sacrifice can start to both hurt and limit us when we’re not aware of what we’re doing; both to ourselves and to those things we want to prioritize. 

A constant sense of urgency isn’t unfamiliar. We’ve likely all had a one- or two-week period in which everything is due and everything is important. Whether it be midterms or finals or you’re just one of those people with a major that puts you through hell, urgency is a driving force in productivity and there’s a constant push to work and work well. 

It’s during these times that I hear, more often than not, students bragging to one another about how little they’re sleeping, how many meals they’ve elected to skip, or how many hours they’ve locked themselves in the stacks. Any idea of personal maintenance is thrown out the window, and there’s no sense of self-compassion nor self-care. 

As cool as we all feel (do you, though?) when we pull an all-nighter in libs, this behavior perpetuates a fundamental misunderstanding in prioritization. Some people like to convince themselves that if they just put in another hour to their bio study-guide or just another round of 587 flash cards, they’re guaranteed a better life on the opposing end to the college career. 

What I’d like to argue, in contrast, is that what really, truly creates a better life for us both now and in the future is learning to prioritize oneself. 

When we spend every waking second with the myriad of responsibilities that come with being an active member of the Emory community, prioritizing everything else over even a simple meal, we’re draining ourselves, both literally and figuratively. Not only is the “go, go go” mentality preventing your body from physically obtaining the resources it needs to physiologically function as an organic life, but you’re also emotionally destroying the desire for something you might have once loved. 

This draining of passion and drive is salient, unfortunately, meaning that when you start to get down and burnt out, others around you will both feel it and reflect it. If we don’t take part in any sort of balancing mechanism, we will have less energy; there will always be something to complain about, and we may start to feel resentment toward both our organizations and classes. Eventually, an attitude of criticism begins to permeate how we think about ourselves and others, which becomes draining to everyone.  

No one in this community wants to, nor do they have the time to, lose sight of themselves. We’re all at Emory working hard for some goal, at least I hope. This mentality that you have to be stretched so thin you have no time to function as a regular person, is insidious. We begin to tally up achievements that we feel are marking our worth, yet we forget our goals along the way; simultaneously forgetting what makes all of our efforts worth it. Without prioritizing ourselves, we begin to sacrifice ourselves.  We may sacrifice our own interests altogether or stop enjoying personal connections that make us feel like ourselves. In doing so, we give up personal aspects of ourselves that make us who we are.  

What we need in these moments is a re-spacialization of ourselves with our commitments, or perhaps better yet, a re-spacialization of how we conceptualize our commitments with how they’re affecting us. What’s important is not how long you spend working or how little you eat, but rather how you function. Quality, they say, is better than quantity, and there’s plenty of evidence to show that passion can be a major driver to success. That’s to say that the quality of our commitments is important, and when we keep ourselves from becoming burnt out, smoke-fueled cogs, we can put more of the passion we once had into the things we do. 

The first step in doing that, then, is taking time for yourself. Leave the library. Make a sandwich. Take a nap. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Go for a walk. Say no to your club members. Ask your professor for an extension. Breathe. Whatever it is you need to do to realign yourself within your commitments, do it. Collect yourself, redefine your goals, rearrange your tasks, but continue to make yourself the utmost important priority.