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“Hof” Takes with Laurel O’Keefe: Stress is not a competition

There is a lot to prove in college. With the tuition bill upward of $40,000, it is hard not to feel like you must always validate your worth as a student. However, in recent years this validation has taken an unhealthy turn. Many students look to stress levels or their choice of major to validate their time and money spent on school, or use their stress levels and workload to measure success. 

I’m guilty of this myself. In my four years here at Hofstra, I’ve looked to fill my schedule to the brim, taking on two majors, leadership roles, a part time job, five classes and unpaid internships at the same time in an (unsuccessful) quest to graduate early. While I don’t regret taking on those responsibilities, dropping my quest to graduate early has been eye-opening. 

Not graduating early was less of a decision than an advising error, yet I feel like it was meant to be. Ultimately, it has left me taking on a lighter workload in my last months here. I feel the best I’ve ever been and have taken time to work on myself and figure out what I want post-graduation and what makes me happy in life. 

Yet in all of this happiness, I feel guilt.  

When I have a spare moment to relax, I feel as if I should be doing more, whether it be picking up more hours at work or applying to jobs. If I lie in bed earlier than 11 p.m. and watch Netflix to unwind, I almost feel panicked, like I’m forgetting something that needs to be done. I am constantly checking my planner and making lists of exaggerated things I have to do or obtain before May. I feel guilty as I sit in the library with my friends while they crunch numbers and I write up a short story to fulfill my minor.

I’m not complaining. While I wish it was more conducive toward my future career in public relations, I love my schedule. Sometimes, though, the guilt I feel catches up to me. I’m caught between a moral and logical ground. I feel as though I’m not stressed enough, but I also know that if I tried to graduate early I would’ve been over-stressed. 

This guilt and inner conflict stems from years of what I’d like to call “stress competition.” My stress competition started in high school, always standing up to proclaim that I too am a stressed and hard-working student, despite my peers being in more AP classes than I. That transferred into my college career, worsening as I sought to be seen as hard-working and ultimately more stressed as a communications student among friends with majors that are typically seen as more challenging. 

This problem is widespread and is hurting students. It is pushing millennials to take on more than they can handle, damaging their mental health and even leading individuals to careers they will not enjoy or succeed in. 

In my time at Hofstra, my career choice has been constantly shamed for being less challenging. I’ve been shamed for being less stressed than my peers and I’ve been guilted into feeling as though my stress is less valid because of the field that I’m in. 

While life may be a competition, stress is not. We need to stop focusing on who is busiest, who has the most work or who spends the most time studying. We need to stop shaming those who don’t need to study as much, those who need to study more, those who don’t do the same work that we do or who don’t work the same hours as us. 

As a generation it is time to realize that we as individuals have our own path, or as my friend puts it, “our own timeline.” We need to stop using stress to measure our worth or our talent.

In my last few “stress-free” days, I have learned that focusing on yourself, taking time for yourself and using your time or stress for things that you choose is nothing to be ashamed of. 

I’ve worked hard for my two degrees, as has everyone else in our class. Do I feel I’ve worked harder? Of course. We are biased toward ourselves. Yet, that does not mean I will diminish anyone’s work or time here.  

The way to prove yourself is not to degrade your peers by discrediting their level of activities or stress. The way to prove yourself is to work to the best of your abilities and cross that stage toward your diploma on your own two feet, without having to trample on anyone else’s success or happiness in the process. 


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