The beginning of each semester brings with it a series of promises that stems from our wish to find balance, and to be able to dedicate enough time to the things that matter most. From telling your friends back home that you will Facetime them every weekend and promising your little sister that you will talk to her every day, you also promise yourself that you will take care of both your mental and physical health. While these are all well-intended promises, it’s no secret that a lot of them are then forgotten.

But the promises we struggle with more on a regular basis are the ones we make to ourselves. I often find myself in this situation where I am ferociously working on an assignment, probably due the next day, and then suddenly remember how I said I was going to work out every day this week. An all too familiar feeling of guilt rushes in. When this very same thing happens the week after, the guilt turns to anger, and then to frustration. Why does this continue to occur week after week? At some point you’re going to just sit there and begin to wonder, is it even possible to find balance within this chaos?

Though I haven’t found the magic formula for this problem, I do know that this self-inflicted frustration needs to end before anything else. Obviously, anger directed towards yourself hasn’t made you commit to your weekly goals of ‘finding balance’ the previous weeks. I found this especially difficult to admit. It’s like realizing that you’ve failed to learn from your mistakes and were unable to do better the next time. Acknowledging that you made a mistake to begin with is less significant than understanding that you did not grow from this mistake. At this point, it’s like admitting failure.

While I was struggling to admit my own shortcomings, I was faced with yet another difficult question: Why do the things that are important to me matter so much? What puts them so high on my priority list?

I did not have a clear answers. Am I really seeking balance for my own wellbeing, or am I succumbing into the pressure to be doing many things? It seemed like a weird combination of both. Yes, I wanted to make time for personal readings each day because I hold a genuine interest in the topic of the book that now sits on my bookshelf below the many textbooks. But in the back of my mind, I also knew that some of the ‘enjoyment’ I derive from reading stems from the feeling of accomplishment of having done something productive that will improve me. I was so keen on the idea of constantly improving myself that it took over almost anything that I was doing.

Since when did my strict to-do list merge with the activities I do to relax and unwind after a long day? I take a second look at the book I was so sure I picked 100% out of interest. Then, I come to the sudden realization that I’d rather be reading literature fiction than another non-fiction for the purpose of broadening my knowledge and expanding my horizons. This expectation to do more and know more has already come into my personal world and dominated. The things I used to do for pure enjoyment now have a prerequisite to receive any attention from me at all: does it make me feel good in the sense that upon doing this, I feel more productive and more knowledgeable?  

I realized how dangerous this was: a hidden form of our desire to be more, which most likely derives from the environment at Cornell where there’s so much fighting for our attention. There is always so many events to attend, clubs to try out for, interesting classes to take, and even inspirational people to meet. We are surrounded with all of these opportunities on a daily basis, and that can become a source of stress if you let it go unnoticed. I realized that my desire to make something productive out of my leisurely activities didn’t really come from any negative feelings at all. Sometimes, it’s the little encounters – meeting truly inspiring people on campus or having certain conversations – that remind me of the things I don’t know yet, and these accumulate over time into a desire to be more.

But this is not true ‘balance.’ True balance is when you can completely separate your academic or professional goals from time that you dedicate for yourself for sole enjoyment. It’s important to recognize the instances where these two realms overlap and when they do not.