Do you know that feeling when your hands aren’t doing anything? You know, the one that they should be doing something?
That’s how I felt on August 22, 2014, which was the date of the Student Organization Fair on The Commons. It was intense and overwhelming, but wonderful and exciting at the same time, and I felt a desire to immerse myself into everything the Vanderbilt experience had to offer. You know, just so my hands were doing something.
I shadowed. I went on Model UN competitions. I danced at Garba. This wasn’t enough for me, so I applied to be a VUceptor and joined the South Asian Cultural Exchange’s (SACE) Executive Board. After my Alternative Spring Break (ASB) experience, I was motivated to apply to be a site leader for the organization at the beginning of sophomore year.
There were times that I saw warning signs. My grades were slipping, and I was spending less and less time with my own friends. I kept convincing myself that everything would be over soon, that the next task I had to complete for an organization was the last, even though I knew the tasks would never stop. Then finally, on the weekend of November 7-8, 2015, all of my activities culminated at the same time. After one task I needed to do for one of those activities fell through, I broke down crying, ashamed at my failure for not being an effective member of a student organization. What was the point, I thought, of being involved when I could not do anything right?
At that moment, I realized the fundamental mistake I had made in my college experience. My life was defined by the success I had in the organizations I was involved in, rather than the experiences I had in those organizations. I was attempting to do activities in the singular hope of doing them well, rather than also doing them for the benefit of others and myself.
What I had neglected was the presence of something so simple, something so fundamental, that I was surprised as to how I had gotten to my sophomore year without it. It was the presence of purpose. Not once had I considered my true feelings about why I wanted to be in an organization, as I usually just wanted to be doing something useful, which is not a convincing reason to achieve any substantive goal.
I’m still in many of the organizations I joined during my first and second years. But now, I question myself every time I participate in an event. Am I participating in something for the sake of doing something, or am I participating in something for intellectual development or the pursuit of my happiness? Once I check those boxes, I feel prepared to engage in an event or organization.
Additionally, I found that organizations were not my only key to happiness or intellectual development at this school. The simple act of grabbing lunch with a friend, playing a game of pick-up basketball with a group of strangers at the rec, or just having quality time to myself to just think, are all activities that I pursue without any pressure of completing a task. More than anything, I found Vanderbilt is about the people you meet and the experiences you have, no matter the method or the outcome.
I’ll admit, there are still times where everything (academics, extracurriculars, and mental health) seems to be closing into me. But at those times, I take a breath, close my eyes, and think of my purpose. Why are these tasks about to close in on me? Are they items I want to complete? And lastly, and most importantly, why am I involved in executing these action items in the first place? Once I find the answers to these questions, I feel confident in my ability to prioritize the tasks I have been given, whether they are academic, mental, or extracurricular-based.
I’m still that kid who cannot keep his hands from staying still. However, I’ve learned that instead of completing arbitrary actions, my hands now need a purpose to act, one that drives not only success in my actions but also satisfaction in my heart.