Busy Culture and My Burnout Story

“I just stayed up all night studying for that test..what did you do last night?”- The words of busy culture at it’s finest.

In college culture especially, the idea of packing out your schedule to the max is not only encouraged but is quite the norm. At my “peak” I was taking a full load of classes, student teaching, a research assistant, vice president of ACS, active in my sorority, VP of Corporate affairs with RHA, Student Activities Board member…andddd I think that’s it. Oh wait, did I mention I also worked part time on the weekends? AND I got some of my highest GPA’s that year. But all good things must come to an end I suppose.

What is busy culture?

It is what it sounds like. And, in my opinion, my old schedule is a good example of that. In one short sentence description: pack your schedule as much as possible. Free time is perceived as wasted time, it’s time you could be doing something “productive” and “toward your future”. For college students, that’s clubs, research (for my fellow STEM majors), teaching assistantships, and anything else under the sun you can think of, not to mention doing well in your classes. I went to a large college of 20,000 undergraduate students, which means lots of activities and things to do. I know, because I planned a lot of them.

What does burnout look like?

Well, for me, it looks like migraines every day, that are so painful, you are unable to go to class or anything else for that matter.

It looks like your body being under so much stress, that you get so sick you end up on antibiotics for the first time in years.

It looks like being on your bathroom floor as a daily occurrence because you are too sick and in too much pain to move, and the cold floor helps your headaches.

How I got here

It feels like just yesterday I was doing my original list, drinking a caramel latte and feeling like I was on top of it all. But now I know my life will never be like that again.

As a result of my crazy schedule, I clearly never made time for myself. I jumped on the scale after being disappointed with my sorority pictures to realize I was 40 lbs heavier than I was in high school, and the highest weight I ever was. That summer, once I had a “break” and was “only” working two jobs and taking one class, I decided I was also going to start living healthier. I signed up for Orange Theory Fitness, and, the rest of that I can probably make a whole post about. But it was going well. The weight started to come off for the first time ever.

Me at one of my programs, this one was Harry Potter themed.

That fall, I dropped all of my other clubs, except the fact I was president of Residence Hall Association (RHA) and an Undergraduate Student Government (USG) senator. Easy-peasy right? Compared to my last schedule, I had downsized, and to boot, I also dropped my credit load (ok so really this was only because my classes were harder, but I tried okay?).

But life happens.

I had a hard time coping with some family emergencies that came up, I ended up starting therapy, and going to the dean of students office to get special permission to have some extensions on assignments. This was the first time I ever needed to reach out for help this way, and I felt defeated, so although I needed extra time with school, I still put my best foot forward in my clubs. I would argue I spent anywhere from 20-30 hours a week between RHA and USG.  And if that seems ridiculous, that’s because it was. As President of RHA, you have a lot of opportunities to sit in on meetings and talk to administrators, and I tried saying yes to as many as my schedule allowed. I also was in senior research at least 12 hours a week to get enough work to write an honors thesis.

That winter is when I first learned about the minimalist movement.

That spring is when everything fell apart.

Between the stress of my personal life and the rigor of my schedule both from my clubs, research, and my schoolwork, I just totally fell off the bandwagon. I began getting headaches every day that inhibited me from going anywhere, much less class. I got so sick I actually made the time to go down to the student health center and get medication. Although it was arguably one of the hardest points in my undergraduate career, I learned to better rely on the rest of the executive board to spread out work (apparently I shouldn’t just do it all myself). Most importantly, I had to learn that I couldn’t ignore myself any longer.

Although I did not “quit” anything, and I finished out my terms in my organizations, I knew that I couldn’t continue being this powerhouse student leader anymore.

That summer, I worked in my lab full time and focused on my future goals (actually) and what I needed to get there. I was finally able to take the time to minimize my possessions, my life, and work toward a more zero waste lifestyle. As a result, I felt happier and more driven than ever to finish out my undergraduate.

I had an extra semester that fall. And that semester I achieved my highest GPA of my college career. Embracing my true values and passions directly translated into a more focused self that was able to excel and pull up my GPA before applying for graduate school.

If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that the most fulfilling life, that will make you the most successful, isn’t the one that’s filled with clubs and extra things that just took up my time. But, one that is instead filled with meaningful relationships, and your personal passions.

Do you relate?

If you have ever felt like you are getting caught up with your commitments, I encourage you to take a step back, evaluate your involvements, how this breaks down as a weekly time commitment and see if it is proportionally making you fulfilled. College can be an amazing time, filled with new experiences, but if you begin to feel drained as a result of those commitments, it’s time to take a small step back from them. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean be a homebody in your room, but it does mean to make sure you are consistently taking the time you need to keep yourself healthy and happy. If you enjoy playing a leadership role, are you making sure you are actually delegating out work, or are you hogging it up for yourself? No, really, make sure everyone has a part to play, and you would be surprised how much people are willing to help.

I encourage you to explore life outside of the expected. Stay less busy.


** I mention the clubs I was in by name just to give the scope of my time commitments and to really prove my point that I had spread myself out too thin. These clubs and organizations had given me a lot of personal growth, and there are many people that have had a very different experience than me in them. I really tried to drive in that it wasn’t the clubs themselves that brought me to this point, but the culture surrounding being over-involved, and my personal life outside of my involvements. Burnout also can look different from person to person, this is just my personal story.


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