Striking a balance between achievement and life experience

| Staff Columnist

Another year ending and another beginning breeds an abundance of New Year’s “resolutions”: to be healthier, to be happier, to work harder in school. I made a resolution as well, though an atypical one. I watched the ball drop and concluded that I would commit more of myself to my social life. My decision, made in the midst of popped champagne bottles and elated cheers, was impulsive but seemed sufficient at the time.

(Erin Mitchell | Student Life)

(Erin Mitchell | Student Life)


Committing myself to my social life actually meant slightly abating my academic focus. For as long as I can remember, academics have taken precedence over all else in my life. I’ve learned to rely on academic accomplishment—and the feelings of self-confidence and fulfillment it brings. It is far more gratifying to work hard and assure success than to ease up on my studying and face possible failure. Therefore, my resolution, which required de-emphasizing my academics, was a scary proposition that I took on with extreme trepidation.

I returned to school eager to fulfill this resolution. At first, going out more frequently was easy enough: my responsibilities were limited, and my workload was minimal. Yet, after a month or so of classes, I slowly regressed to my old ways. I stayed in to study, to finesse an essay, or to catch up on sleep. This wasn’t to say that I stopped going out altogether, but merely that I often couldn’t bring myself to put down the textbook and slip on some high heels.

After some reflection, I realized that not only was I not fulfilling my resolution, I was also merely brushing one finger gently against the surface of a more comprehensive dichotomy. Balancing academics with a thriving social life is really just a subcategory to a broader issue, striking a balance between achievement and experience. An achievement, or rather, the desire to achieve, is a way to gain some sort of hold on the ambiguous future. A future that is emphasized by numerous external forces as being “necessary to secure”—as if it is tangible, an animal we must wrestle with and physically restrain. Experience, or rather, the desire to just experience life, is a focus on the present, with the implication of a lack of concern for the future.

My realization that my resolution was just a subcategory to a bigger life issue came about this past month when I began frantically putting together a résumé to apply for summer internships. The process of creating this one simple document illustrated to me the unfortunate reality of our culture: A person’s self-worth is contingent upon measurable achievement, not the less calculable life experience. My résumé is no more than a neatly compiled list of grade point average, honors and awards—all without any reference to life experiences. Even the résumé section demarcated “experiences” is not intended to include real experiences, such as a recent skydiving endeavor. Instead, it is another area to highlight the more tangible past jobs and internships.

With both internal and external pressure to accumulate achievements, it’s hard to leave time and energy for experiences. Just as emphasizing academics can stunt a person’s social life, emphasizing achievement can deter a person from living. Achievement is important, but this does not mean that experience should be left by the wayside. It’s important to strike a balance, and even though it may seem that the two are antithetical, I do think that they have the potential to work in tandem.

Up to this point in my life, I can honestly say there hasn’t been a fair balance between the two. If the “experiences” section on my résumé were to truly reference my real life experiences, I’d be hard-pressed to formulate a considerable list. As I grow older—moving closer to the “real world”—the pressure to achieve is more pronounced. I now realize that my impulsive resolution reflects my wish to evade these pressures, and to place greater value on experience. With social endeavors acting as only one aspect of life experiences, I wish to broaden the framework of my resolution. This coming year I intend to find a balance: to both achieve and experience, or at least to make a conscious effort to do so.

Amanda is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at arjacobo@wustl.edu.

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