IMG_6687-1It’s no secret that many Wesleyan students are overburdened. At some point in your time here, you’ve probably heard of the Rule of Seven—that is, the suggestion that students should have no more than seven commitments at once including classes, extracurriculars, jobs, etc. It’s meant to be a guide that makes sure we all maintain a healthy work-life balance. It’s also, for most of us, ignored, unrealistic, or just plain unhelpful.

This isn’t meant to slam those who promote the Rule of Seven. I’m sure they had the best intentions. But I don’t think I could name more than a handful of friends who follow the Rule of Seven successfully, and those who do tend to overload on one thing or another so that they end up overcommitted anyways.

Obviously, this isn’t true for everyone, and some people—including myself—would say they have a decently healthy work-life balance from time to time. But never thanks to the Rule of Seven. Every time I try to quantify my extracurriculars, I realize just how out of balance I should be in theory. But I then realize I’m doing okay, in spite of my violation of this Rule. It also doesn’t take into account extremely high-commitment activities and, on the other side of things, relatively low-commitment activities. When I sat on the Wesleyan Student Assembly, I was technically following the Rule of Seven, but ended up notably more overwhelmed than I am now despite currently having nominally more commitments. 

The problem isn’t as much that all Wesleyan students are each individually seeking out too many commitments. Or rather, that’s not the main issue. Sure, many of us were (and maybe still are) resume-building, overachieving, high-octane high school students and don’t know how to take our foot off the gas. But it’s clear that the percentage of people who overcommit only grows in the college sphere.

Where I see the problem is in the net of overcommitment. Let’s say, for example, that Nicky has three friends: Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn. Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn are all constantly busy, their Google Calendars more full than Usdan at 11:45 a.m. on a Tuesday. Nicky decides he’s going to pull back for his mental health, a noble pursuit. He eases off a few of his commitments, delegates some of his responsibilities, and suddenly has a few more hours in his schedule.

But Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn don’t. Their G-Cals are as full as ever. Suddenly, Nicky has all this time on his hands but nothing to do with it; everyone is occupied all the time. Nicky stares at the wall, redecorates his room, watches some TV, but is ultimately bored. So he picks back up some commitments, makes new ones, and breaks his Rule of Seven yet again. A few months later, Ricky has the same inclination but experiences the same thing. Rinse and repeat.

So, though the Rule of Seven can sometimes be really helpful for first-years starting out at the University, I sometimes think it does more harm than good in the long run, creating a cyclical culture of overcommitment. It can be way more stressful to think about the number of commitments I have when they’re quantified and laid out in front of me than when I simply just deal with them. Is this the healthiest way of doing things? That’s for you to decide for yourself. For me, it works.

I do often wish that our net of overcommitment didn’t keep me trapped at the level of busy that I am day-to-day. It sometimes feels like I just sort of end up like Nicky if I take a day off. Maybe others don’t, and find it easier to take time and space for themselves without doing something. But for me, the pull of Wesleyan’s social current will always overpower any inclination to follow the Rule of Seven. My brain sort of just spins endlessly unless I’m actively with other people or fulfilling an obligation, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

So, my advice to those like me is as follows: Ignore your Rule of Seven, it’s made up; different commitments work well for different people. Coordinate your days off so they match up with your other overburdened friends and then you can keep each other sane, and don’t be afraid to be in your own company. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s something I’m working on, and I think the more people who get there, the healthier this campus can become.

Sam Hilton is a member of the class of 2025 and can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu

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