OPINION: Don’t spend your life running toward an imaginary finish line

A student trying to take on too much and race across the finish line.
(Zoey Lofgren • The Student Life)

In the flurry of assignments, quizzes, tests and projects that inevitably flood the end of the semester, life can feel like a blur, our brains flitting from one thing to the next, frantically trying to get everything done. We constantly live in the future, always working to meet the next deadline. 

We can’t stop. It won’t be good enough. It won’t be finished. We’ll get behind. 

We are runners, told to run fast. Not just fast, but as fast as we possibly can. We get lost in the work in the rush to accomplish more. Reinforced by the culture of work that surrounds us, we press on. 

The rising worry of not doing enough wells up inside, driving us further and further into our work, into our chase to get more done, into our desperate stretch for the finish line. 

But isn’t the finish line just a mirage? Because when can we say our work is truly finished?

The problem is no one told us where the finish line is. 

We haven’t had the time to define the finish line for ourselves. We were told to run where we want to go, study what we like to study, find a profession we love and pursue our passion to the highest level. 

We started to sprint before we even knew where we were going. 

What we need is time: to explore, to wander, to peek down a dozen winding paths before we find the one we know we want to follow. 

As we enter the final stretch of this unusual semester, we have to remember to give ourselves space to rest and reflect — space to stop running for a while, to take stock of where we are and to look ahead at where we are heading. 

We shouldn’t feel guilty for taking a break when there’s still more to do. There will always be more to do. We don’t need to rationalize our breaks, convincing ourselves to take them because they’ll help us be more productive in the future. 

We need to take breaks because our lives are valuable, our time is precious and our self-worth is not inseparably wrapped up in our work. 

We also need to take breaks because our lives aren’t defined by our achievements. Our lives are made up of moments, and in the running culture, one day you’ll look back and think about how you wasted so many moments. You wasted your life running, maybe even in a direction you didn’t actually want to go. You sacrificed moments for accomplishments.

Breaks are an integral part of living a full and balanced life. 

We have to fight the running culture for that time to stand in one place to breathe, to look around and assess what’s most important in our lives and to put everything in its place: “These are my hopes and dreams for the future; those are the specific things I’m working toward right now; this is where I am at this moment.” 

Life is filled with hard work. But in taking time to rest, to do things we enjoy, to spend time with family and friends and to reflect on the past and look ahead at our hopes for the future, we make life more about the journey. More about the experiences we get to enjoy and the people we have the privilege of doing life with. 

Our work will still be there, and it is important. But it isn’t everything. And while we’ve all heard that message a million times before, it becomes a little bit harder to live out in this part of the year. 

So today, as you write, prepare presentations and study for tests, build in some time to truly and fully rest and some time to collect your thoughts and reflect. 

These moments will not always come easily. We will have to fight for them sometimes. But they are worth fighting for, because to live a life with rest and reflection is to live a life focused on the small victories, the simple moments and the important people. A life about the journey, not just the work. 

Ryan Lillestrand PZ ’23 lives in Orlando, Florida, but grew up in Florence, Italy. He is an avid reader and intends on majoring in international political economy with a minor in cognitive science. 

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