The Plight of the Over Achiever or Taking Time to Smell the Roses

I’m assuming that most of my readers are perspective college students, who are likely all to be over achievers to some degree. This is for you. See if this describes how you think.

My most valuable asset is time. That is because of all of my possessions, time seems to be what I have the least amount of.

Someone once asked me how I could consider time a possession. “No one can own time,” they said. I disagree. I believe that each and every person is given a certain amount of time, and just like with money, how they decide to spend it defines who they become as a person.

In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, there is a parable about a poor woman who gives two mites to the church when people who are far richer give far more. In the parable she is portrayed as giving the most, because while the others give out of their abundance, she gives all that she has out of her destitution.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not exceptionally religious, and I definitely am not trying to push my views on anyone, but I do consider myself to be spiritual, and I am fascinated by nearly all religions. The reason that I bring that parable up is that it expresses how I feel about time. I have so little time that whenever I choose to spend time on homework, working, or with another person, it is because I find that cause worthwhile.

My lack of time is only exacerbated by my tendency towards over achieving. I feel as though if I am not filling all of my time with something worthwhile that is making me grow as a person, than I am not living up to my full potential and I find that lack of fulfillment difficult deal with that. I often feel as though I have to justify getting a full night’s sleep, or taking the time to make myself a decent dinner, because I know that I could be doing homework, or reading, or writing, or otherwise strengthening my mind.

I guess you could say that I live with a sense of purpose. Everything that I do must have a purpose; otherwise I likely won’t do it.

This personality characteristic works fairly well in a typical work or vacation setting, where I work my set number of hours, and then go home each evening and have weekends free. I see new places, meet new people, read about new concepts, gain new experiences, and work on projects that preserve the memories of those times.

The problems with this perspective occur during the school year.

The way that an engineering program usually works is that you will spend approximately 15 hours a week in classes, and then for each hour you spend in class, you will spend about two hours outside of class working on homework. This isn’t necessarily true your freshman year, when you will likely spend less than 10 hours a week outside of class, but as you progress in your degree program, that amount of time increases dramatically. I predict that I currently spend about 20-30 hours a week on homework or studying outside of class as a junior; sometimes it’s more, sometimes a little less. Then I’m in extracurricular activities.

Engineering students don’t work 8-10 hours a day then finish for the day. They usually break up their study/homework time throughout the week, to accommodate classes and extracurricular activities. This results in many long nights and weekends of study.

When my time is already consumed by engineering classes, for some reason, I still feel the need to fill any spare moment I have with something productive.

My dad offered the following advice for thinking about relaxation in a productive way:

“BALANCE is the key.

The human body is a machine and as with any machine, it requires maintenance and care to keep it running in top condition.  A scheduled maintenance period is mandatory or the machine will break down.   To use an automobile reference, it’s not just a matter of putting in new oil and wiper blades; it must be washed, waxed, vacuumed, conditioned and generally taken “off-line” to keep it in top condition.  This needs to be planned and scheduled on a regular basis.  If you skip the maintenance, the downtime gets longer for the next time you attempt to get it maintained AND you run the risk of it breaking down on you before the next maintenance period comes along.  The harder you push the machine to perform, the more often you need to take it off-line for maintenance.  All machines have a “duty cycle rating” as well.  The stronger they are built the harder they can work, but that is a story for another day…”

Over the summer I had the opportunity to visit The Getty museum in Los Angeles during my internship. I went with one of my close friends who is a NASA aerodynamics, propulsion, and flow physics engineer at the Dryden Flight Research Center. As we were exploring their masterfully designed gardens, he stopped suddenly in front of me.

“I think it is really important for engineers to do this,” he said as he bent over to smell a rose in front of him. I stepped forward and joined him. And there we stood, two aerospace engineers, in the middle of the gardens at The Getty in Los Angeles, taking time to smell the roses.

One of the important lessons that I have learned since I’ve been in college is that sometimes you do really need to just stop and take time to smell the roses.

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