For a college that prides itself on being a premier liberal arts institution dedicated to, among other things, providing an encompassing literary education, the number of students who confess to never thinking to read a book of their own choice is surprising.
I admit it. I am one of the many who have fallen into the habitual micromanaging of daily schedules to maximize productivity (or at the very least try to), without leaving much room for leisure activities that I once loved, such as reading. Ever since my first semester at college, I admit to being someone who, when asked what interesting stories or novels they’ve recently read, will most likely dodge the question by citing the many papers and projects I have left to complete and rush off to my next destination.
However, this wasn’t always the case. On a typical Sunday morning in high school, I could have been found at the nearest cafe or in a similar locale, newly minted novel in one hand and iced coffee in the other. Yet during the college semester, I am more likely to be found in Cabot Library or the Smith Center, coffee still in hand, but busy scrolling through the emails in my inbox or browsing online. This phenomenon wherein college students become too preoccupied with other commitments to make as much time for interests that once occupied them is relatively common and understandable. However, it becomes an issue when academic and social demands take precedence to such a degree that interests such as reading, which once held importance to me, are now shelved under the category of “leisure” and very rarely indulged in.
Growing up, reading represented an avenue into different worlds. Reading was my chance to learn more about different places I would’ve never had the opportunity to visit, understand the complexities of different characters, and step out of my own shoes into another person’s. Every book was a new chance to explore a previously undiscovered place, on my own terms and according to what I was most interested in.
And yet in college, it seemed like the value of reading for the sake of reading had been lost. I felt that if the activity I was engaged in did not produce a tangible result or have some sort of concrete, positive outcome to hold up and justify the time spent on the activity then it was not worth pursuing. And thus, I found myself only perusing class-assigned readings instead. Many of these were wonderfully enlightening and important. However, they could not replace the gratification of reading by choice, whether that be in the form of an audiobook, novel, e-book, or other form of media. In the end, there was a different type of value in choosing to pick up something that caught my eye, being drawn into a story, and wanting to see it through to the end.
Despite the actual meaning of the famously alluded to “Harvard Time,” which recently went out of use on campus, it seems like in reality, Harvard time is divided very unevenly: The vast majority of time is spent in pursuit of activities that are only pursued under the belief that there will be a benefit or reward in their completion, and very little time is spent on other interests that provide less tangible, but no less valuable rewards. Under the impression that this was the better division of my time, I boxed reading mainly into an academic context, separate from any activities I would pursue for diversion. However, this did nothing to improve my overall generativity in my work, nor did it help me be more productive. It only resulted in the loss of a cherished pastime.
Learning to unsee reading as a solely academic practice was what helped me regain my ability to engage with and make time for it. The necessity of understanding this goes for all of us here at Harvard, regardless of what interest stands in place of reading. Learning to see that value in something does not always lie in the most obvious or visible results, such as a grade on an assessment, will ultimately benefit the well-being and happiness of students, as well as our productivity. Studies have also indicated that the hyper-fixation upon a certain task without any sort of occasional mental diversion is unproductive in completing said task. Therefore, interests, hobbies, and passions should not always be sidelined in favor of what we think will produce desirable results; it just may be that allowing some room for mental respites and enjoyment can help us get further in our goals and pursuits than anything else.
Regardless of what our interests are, it is important to leave room in our lives for them. The inherent value in partaking in those activities may not be visible in the form of an A on a paper, or as practice for a future vocation, yet it is there nonetheless. Our diverse passions and interests are a part of who we are, as a student body and as individuals, and they should never be sacrificed as a part of the false idea that productivity excludes doing what we love best.
Mary Neguse ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.