How much is too much?

For this ambitious junior, the list is long.

“Less is more,” says our elder—and he cautions against taking on everything.

Dear EWC:

Hi! I’m a junior in high school, and since the pandemic started and we moved to remote schooling, I haven’t found much of a difference in my performance until this school year.

High school is a time to start thinking about college and what I want to do in my future. I already know what I want to do and I’ve been actively striving for that goal since 8th grade. I want to become a computer programmer and get a Masters degree in computer science. I’ve always been a hardworking and ambitious person, so I’m doing a lot of extracurriculars. During my school lunch breaks, I lead a club and participate in multiple clubs and honors classes. After school, I’m a part of a few more clubs (I may or may not attend according to my schedule), the school orchestra (meeting twice a week), a peer mentor program, a college course twice a week, and I just recently signed up for a Northrop Grumman high school involvement program that will have sessions once or twice a month after school. I’m super into coding and computer science, so I genuinely want to be a part of the programs I signed up for (Girls Who Code, Northrop Grumman, etc.). I feel like they make me more engaged in my career choice and give me a larger opportunity to pursue my dreams.

However, this means that my schedule for one week is entirely filled up. School starts at 9:30 AM and ends at 2:40 PM. For me, with all these activities, I usually finish at around 4-5 PM each day. With the additional work and schoolwork, I’m entirely done with school at around 7 PM. It’s a big workload and I sometimes feel myself getting stressed because it’s a lot harder to manage when everything is virtual and online. Last year, I would be at the school building until evening but it was easier to manage because I had more human interaction.

Overall, it’s a lot of work, but I don’t really want to drop any of the extracurriculars since I already committed to them and I’m genuinely interested. I just want to know how I can manage my life and stress better. I usually play a few games with my friends before I sleep so I have an outlet, and the weekend is entirely free unless I have a project or something. Thank you!

Lloyd replies:

One of the interesting parts of being an elder for this site is the opportunity to read the incredibly diverse submissions. There are letters where the advice-seeker is having so much trouble on so many basic levels, that it is almost impossible to imagine how to turn things around in a few paragraphs from a stranger. And then, there are a few letters like yours.

You are amazing and should be very proud of your enthusiasm, your drive, your involvements, and ambitions. You sound like a college admissions officer’s dream. But that’s not why you wrote to an elder.
So, I think there are two steps here. First, to get you to really believe that in your case, less is more. And then to suggest a way to get there. There are probably hundreds of analogies that could be used to support the less is more concept. One that comes to mind is working out in a gym to get stronger. If working out an hour 3 times a week is good, why not every day, why not 5 hours a day.
Any trainer will tell you that your body needs rest periods to recover and grow stronger. You need more off time to stay sharp, be at your best, and have good mental health. That’s not just the weekend or the end of the day. You need to find holes in your day when you can veg, listen to music, meditate, watch Days of Our Lives. And if you can, I think it would really help if your downtime in the evening wasn’t spent playing computer games with your friends. Everything I’ve read says that turning computers off a few hours before bed really helps with the quality of your sleep which you desperately need, being as busy as you are.

So how do you create holes in your day? You say you are interested in everything and don’t want to drop anything. But I really think you do need to do just that or risk burning out somewhere down the road. So how to choose. You are probably pretty clear on how important each activity is to you. But when looking to cut, ask yourself which of these clubs, etc. would be just fine tomorrow without you, i.e., how important are you to them. Hang on to the ones where you are critical to their success and let go of the one’s where it might take weeks for them to notice you are missing. If you must keep your hand in the game of the Seniors Italian-American Girls Coding Club, grab a friend who is in the club and allow them to be your surrogate. Let them give you a 5-minute summary vs. you sitting in the meeting for an hour. Delegation is salvation! No kidding, I just made that up.

Obviously, you are doing great. I just don’t want you to burn out before you get to design the next space station. I’m rooting for you.


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