Harvard Students Just Can't 'Slow Down'

“I could just as easily be doing Satire V or The Crimson, the same for [PBHA program] Dearborn, I guess,” said Jobbins.

Mixed Messages

The University’s various responses to dealing with joiners are, at best, unclear. Well-meaning catchphrases like “slow down” and “taking time off” have made frequent appearances in recent official publications targeted at students, but they are nearly always accompanied by—and subservient to—the University’s extollment of achievement.

For example, Lewis’ “Slow Down” letter reads: “I do not mean to discourage you from high achievement, indeed from the pursuit of extraordinary excellence in your chosen path. But you are more likely to sustain the intense effort needed to accomplish first-rate work in one area if you allow yourself some leisure time.”

Fitzsimmons, in his letter to incoming students urging them to consider taking a year off, wrote: “We want to do everything possible to help the students we enroll make the most of their opportunities, avoiding the much-reported “burnout” phenomenon that can keep them from reaching their full potential.”


All Work And No Play...

If burnout doesn’t claim a joiner, though, stress most certainly will.

Charles Ducey, director of the Bureau of Study Council (BSC), says he has seen far too many Harvard students who are stressed in his time here. The BSC alone sees 800 students a year for individual counseling or therapy, he says, with University Health Services treating far more.

“Harvard students are excellent at what they do and so they take on too much,” Ducey says. “They have an internal critic that pushes them to do too much.”

“I think the internal pressure to do everything is commoner here than in many other colleges where students just may not be as perfectionistic,” he adds.

But Bonner says she thinks that “stress drives us. I work on stress.”

Social Studies concentrator Genevieve M. Sheehan ’05 agrees that the side effects of being overcommitted can be exhilarating.

“After, say, an all-nighter, that’s such a great feeling that, for me, all of the awful time management problems are worth it. It’s almost a sick satisfaction,” she says.

What makes it worth it for Sheehan is the thought that, ultimately, there may be a future payoff.

“I can always see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.