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#HonorsProblems: When Extracurriculars Are Too Extra

The following blog post was written by Peer Advisor Gwen, a CCAS sophomore studying english literature and Spanish.

In high school I was one of those kids that does everything. I didn’t think I was, but I definitely was, and so were a lot of my friends. Unlike some of them, however, when I came to GW I decided that I would keep my extracurriculars out of my studies: I wasn’t going to pursue varsity sports or major in theater or music, because I wanted to focus on other things and just do those for fun. I dropped acting for the duration of freshman year, didn’t worry about practicing oboe, and opted for a school where I could just be a club swimmer.

Playing with props at the Folger Library

With my activities reduced from daily practice to a few hours a week, my first year of college had so much more free time than I was accustomed to. On the nights I didn’t have orchestra I would explore D.C. with my friends or bake cookies for my dorm-mates. Instead of swimming every day after school, I ate lunch with my Spanish class three times a week, and started playing guitar, things I’d never had time for before. And when I really didn’t want to go to practice, I’d skip. I still participated in the activities I liked, but only when I felt like it.

Our Spanish class took a field trip of our own volition to the Simon Bolivar statue! (feat. Peer Advisor Kaitlyn)

As the semester went on, though, I became dissatisfied with both orchestra and swim team. When I was given a more challenging part in orchestra, something I could have learned easily last year, I struggled to master it. In swim practice, sets I used to find easy were now challenging to keep up with. The final straw was the first swim meet of the season, when my times were slower than they’d been since I was 14, no matter how hard I pushed myself. Disappointed, I resolved to work harder at everything, but that quickly made me miserable as every time I practiced I would wish I was doing something else.

Eventually I realized: the standards I was holding myself to were completely arbitrary. I wanted to continue swimming and orchestra because they’re fun, and there’s no rule that says I have to be a certain speed or practice every single day, even if I did in the past. In an academic environment as competitive as ours, it’s easy to think things are only worth doing if we give them all our energy. Nobody strives to be a mediocre athlete or a musician who doesn’t really practice. But extracurriculars are supposed to be for fun, and sometimes practicing two hours per day just isn’t fun. I want to work hard when I go to practice, but other nights I’ll bake cookies and hang out with my friends instead. That means I won’t be as fast of a swimmer or as good a musician as I once was, but that’s okay. In classes we work plenty hard, so in our free time it’s important to do things because we want to, regardless of whether we do them well.