Résumé-building distracts from meaningful experiences

I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought about my funeral before. I’m not being morbid; I’m just being honest. Sometimes, I find myself pondering how people will react to the news that I have passed, what they will say about me when I’m not there and how they will feel when I’m gone. I think that we all have, to some extent, imagined how we will be portrayed after death.

I hope to be remembered as a loving daughter and as a faithful friend. However, as exams loom before me in the near future and unwritten essays accumulate, I strive only to be a diligent student. It seems that, especially in college, an institution dedicated to preparing us for our future, we prioritize homework over friends, extracurricular activities over coffee dates and exam preparation over chapel time. To put it simply, we live for our resume, not our eulogy.

It’s a scary realization. But try asking yourself this: if you were to pass away today, what would people say? She was such a dedicated student. He participated in ten campus clubs. She won nearly every cross-country meet. These are valuable merits to strive for, but to what avail? What do these statements say about your character? What do all of these statements say about the person behind the activities and experiences you put on your résumé?

As college students, we feel the pressure of society’s demands. We feel like we are expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA, participate in an assortment of extra-curricular activities and be the president of at least one, be in a varsity sport and volunteer with any spare time we might have. Additionally, we are expected to lead active social lives. We blindly accept these challenges without a second thought because this lifestyle is our perceived norm. We believe these credentials are necessary to gain acceptance into a prestigious grad school or to get hired for our dream job.

However, there comes a point when we stretch ourselves so thin trying to “live the college dream” that we end up sacrificing who we are for what we do. Still, most of us remain blissfully unaware of this treadmill of activities and responsibilities we are running on, constantly speeding up without actually moving anywhere at all.

The drive for overachievement is a fundamental flaw in today’s society. Building a resume stems from a focus on tomorrow, while building a eulogy emphasizes the significance of today. Yes, grades matter and they are vital in gaining access to the next stage of life, be it grad school, an internship or a career. With that being said, there must be a balance between creating an impressive résumé and establishing personal character.

Such advice sounds great in theory, but how do we go about actually living for our eulogy? First, I think it involves letting go of the pressure of work, at least temporarily. You will never be your best self while you are overwhelmed by stress.

Second, it’s about time we learn to engage in conversations. Try suppressing the need to glance at a phone every two seconds. And as important and potentially riveting as study dates with a biology textbook can be, try prioritizing interactions with humans over those with inanimate objects. Though it can be easy to forget, especially in an academic environment, relationships satisfy something in us that can never be completely fulfilled through books or interviews.

To live for your eulogy involves learning to be present. It requires us to concentrate on today. The greatest gift you can give someone is your time and attention. The little conversations and friendly exchanges throughout the day may seem miniscule in comparison to the urgent need to write your five-page essay, but I assure you, they add up. Let the needs of tomorrow worry about themselves and instead, appreciate the blessings of today.

I’m not suggesting that you spend your time romanticizing death and all its glory, but I am asking you to think long and hard about your priorities. The present moment is all we are guaranteed. So while you reformat your résumé, take a moment to think about the status of your eulogy.

Consider whether the activities filling your schedule are stress-relieving or stress-inducing. Contemplate what in your day actually brings out your best self. The author, philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman put it best: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Kristen Sykes ’16 sykes@stolaf.edu is from Prairie Village, Minn. She majors in English.