We’re Greater Than Our Productivity
This column was contributed by senior Zoe Ingerson ’13.
Like every single one of the millions of college grads that have come before me, I find myself thinking more and more the quintessential question of “Where did the time go?” When did this whole senior graduation thing happen, and how is it that we’re standing here, 31 days from graduation? (Although, personally, I like to think of it as 2.7 million seconds—it makes it sound at least a little bit longer.)
Here at Whitman, and especially as seniors, we love to measure our time in terms of “productivity”: how many pages of our thesis we wrote, how many hours we spent in the library or how many days it’s been since we last showered. Don’t get me wrong, these numbers are useful; but, being here, we become time management fiends, calculating how many credits we can take while at the same time making time to volunteer 8.2 hours a week, apply for those 22 internships, be president of the club we founded and still be able to “be productive” when we know we’ve spread ourselves far too thin. Part of the reason we’re so good at this is that we’ve been trained exceptionally well—it’s become a game, calculating our odds of success at “using our time responsibly” in order to reach our peak efficiency.
But I also think that we like it simply because it’s just easier to think in terms of something tangible. When you start thinking about all the other stuff, the memories, the friends, our own quality of life, not to mention our favorite “what are you doing after graduation?” question, the waters get murkier, and things get scarier. We can’t express it in terms of facts and figures and productivity, so we shy away from talking about the possibilities, about that which we cannot comprehend. Even those who do know what their next, cautious steps are can’t help but feel somewhat terrified of what lies beyond. So we end up talking about what we do know, the easily measurable facts: where we are going, for how long, or how much it will pay (if we’re lucky). However, these facts simply cannot do justice to the excitement and magic that these entail.
Our times at Whitman have been marked by incredible opportunities: to take challenging, often bizarre classes; to study abroad in otherworldly places; to direct our own learning; to meet people who are passionate about literally anything and everything. Yes, we know how to write a paper in the span of one evening, but let’s not allow ourselves to only come away with this sense of “productivity.” Though capitalism may tell us otherwise, we are more than just “productive members of society.”
If Whitman has taught us anything, it’s that there is an infinite number of opportunities out there, and that it’s okay to say that we don’t know, to acknowledge and embrace the unknown. Measuring all this in terms of time isn’t going to cut it. Let’s measure in terms of opportunity, in terms of happiness—What’s that? You can’t come up with a definite parameter? That’s okay. That’s the point. Maybe sometimes there is no measurement.
To quote one of my favorite teachers of all time, Ms. Frizzle, now is the perfect time to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy.” Clichéd? Perhaps. Accurate? You bet. The truth is that life is messy, and if we spend most of the little time we have worrying about the fact that we have little time, we risk losing the beauty of the intangible, the spontaneous and the unknown.
So, for our last few weeks, let’s please not talk about what we’re getting done, for a change. Let’s talk about getting started. The possibilities are endless.