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The Villanovan

Villanova’s Overachiever Culture Harms Students’ Health

By the first week of October, I was completely exhausted. The semester thus far has been jam-packed with a large amount of course work, club responsibilities and time with friends. While some people traveled to Las Vegas for Fall Break, I simply went home. I needed a week to myself under the rainy skies of Tacoma, Washington to recuperate.

When students returned from break, many of my peers felt similarly. The only thing they had the energy to do over break was nothing at all.

It is seemingly commonplace for the daily lives of Villanova students to be stressful and largely devoid of free time. Many students take a tough course load and involve themselves in multiple on-campus organizations, while still attempting to maintain a vibrant social life. These are schedules that require constant attention and effort to maintain.

While we don’t pack our schedules because we are gluttons for punishment, we do pack them so much because Villanova perpetuates an overachiever culture. 

In order to seem successful, feel adequately prepared for the professional world and fit in with everybody else trying to do the same, it is a cultural expectation that we do as many things as we possibly can. This is detrimental to mental health.

“Feeling pressed for time can have many harmful consequences such as poorer health, trouble sleeping and depression,” an article from ScienceDaily that explores how a busy schedule affects our health said. The article further postulated that an excess of commitments makes one feel guilty about not being fully invested in each one, amplifying the feeling of being pressed for time. 

I often feel this way. As a junior, I am fully engaged in the upper-level courses for both of my majors, so academics are a constant stressor. I have also been consumed with planning the Villanova Singers’ fall tour to Montréal, in addition to my day-to-day duties as president of the group. 

Furthermore, I sing in and manage the social media for Measure Up A Cappella and, of course, write articles for The Villanovan. 

I deeply enjoy all of my commitments and I have met many amazing people through my on-campus involvement. However, it would be a lie to say that my responsibilities are not occasionally suffocating. 

Despite that, I feel stuck. If I lessen my involvement, I fear to be seen as second to everybody else who is similarly involved. I would hate to be seen as boring or lazy. I am not the only one who feels this way, either.

“I feel like there’s an expectation to say ‘Yes’ to every meeting, every club and every opportunity, because if you don’t you’re ‘lazy,’ ‘not motivated’ and ‘not preparing for the future,’” junior Katie Brumbaugh said.

“I felt this [my freshman year],” sophomore Joey Klieman said. “I was so desperate to fit in that I was trying to do too many activities at once and it led to burnout and scheduling fatigue. I slowly had to accept that it wasn’t healthy to do it all.”

“I’ve personally felt this, especially my sophomore year,” senior Kritika Jain said. “But also I don’t know what will change the culture because it’s perpetuated by students, too.”

While the rigorous curriculums and numerous extracurricular organizations that Villanova offers make it hard to pass up on all the opportunities which come our way as students, I believe the real driving factor of this overachiever culture is the ways we contribute to it ourselves. Even professors are taking notice.

“Villanova’s busy culture is adding so much unnecessary stress to students’ lives,” professor of interpersonal communication, Megan Cardwell, said. “You are valuable if you have a busy class schedule and go out every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. If you aren’t as involved you feel as if you have less value.”

Due to Villanova’s status as a prestigious, selective university, many of its students were brought up in families of means, or are now surrounded by people who were. As such, many of our parents and other relatives have led economically successful lives thus far, setting an example for us to follow. 

Many Villanova students, such as myself, likely feel some pressure, parentally and self-imposed, to follow in their footsteps. We want to live up to or surpass the wealth and success of our parents. 

When I was young, I was (and still am) told by my parents that the way to accomplish such a goal is to “do well in school.” 

While times are changing and going to a university is not everybody’s path to success, it was during the time most of our parents came of age, and such traditions have been imparted onto us. Thus, we feel we must make the most of every opportunity we get here to be successful in life.

This pressure certainly gets to me and many of my peers. There have been many days where I feel like my brain and body are being stretched in multiple different directions, like a thousand people are demanding something from me all at the same time. 

I have little time for my brain to cool down, leaving me completely drained by the time breaks roll around. I’ve had many nights where I couldn’t sleep or times where I just couldn’t focus on work because my inner thoughts were shooting frazzled brain cells off like radioactive uranium.

How little sleep we get and how stressed out and overloaded we are is a common topic of discussion amongst my friends and their friends and their friends.

While there is no grand solution that would fix Villanova’s overachiever culture, I have made progress in assuaging some of my struggles by forcing myself to take breaks. 

Most importantly, I am being honest with myself about how much I actually need to be involved in versus what campus culture is pressuring me to do.

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