This article was guest authored by Venus Obazuaye (’23).
“I have fifteen minutes to eat today,” a sophomore comments, their eyes glowing.
To my arched eyebrows of concern, they laugh, explaining it’s a lot more than usual. Their busy day consists of back to back meetings, full of event prep and project work time. Eating is often the very last thing on their mind to schedule into their day.
This sophomore is not alone in this experience. My friends schedule project meetings during midday and plan ahead to sign out of check to make time for their club events before making time to take care of themselves. I can’t berate them that much, because I too, am guilty of the same thing. There were days that I rushed eating dinner to run to my next meeting or to prepare something for a club. My experience is just one of many, behind the many names attached to IVC posts and students-l emails is a life very similar: running to the next thing we need to give our attention to.
In an idealistic world, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with this sophomore. I’ve watched new sophomores be given the same advice every single year. “Two to three clubs. One big commitment and maybe two small ones.” I heard that advice, as well, and it went out the other ear. I tell my sophomores and juniors to take care of themselves while holding my overcommitment behind my back. Those I watch move forward in their IMSA lives often do the same.
We herald an IMSA where overcommitment isn’t common, but then turn around to prepare to bombard sophomores with sign up sheets and mailing lists during the club fair. The dim yellow lights of the West Gym illuminate a choice: which clubs will you become a part of? When you are an upperclassmen, what will take your time? We encourage students to participate, by luring them into our clubs, but never too much. To get engaged, but not to their detriment. With every club on campus vying for your attention all at once, how do you maintain a balance?
We try to create a solution, to curb burnout and being half asleep during classes, while creating an environment where every arrow points in the opposite direction. You are encouraged to get involved with clubs to get leadership experiences for college, so you sign up for mailing lists during club fair. At some point, the simple interest turns into commitment, and you close your computer after finishing your pile of club tasks for the day, and open it the next to continue on more. Many climb further up within the ranks of their clubs, and the stakes rise. General board members turn into presidents, and a one-hour-per-week commitment becomes the club looking to you for guidance on where to go next.
Some say, just quit. Just leave. But, students at IMSA are responsible for so much more than your average club at other high schools. From putting on large scale culture shows, to advocating for improving their school’s environment, students at IMSA put their all into their organizations. Students are the architects of what many consider the biggest parts of the IMSA experience. They create ways for students to relax, and work to teach others about leadership: helping to inspire the next generation of STEM kids who might one day change the world. I have met some of the most talented and inspiring people through my club work at IMSA—people who inspire me every day to keep working harder. Unfortunately, even they fall victim of the club to overcommitment pipelines.
The stakes are high as well. Clubs have led to friends falling out with and questions about work ethic have smeared some people’s images around campus. Club interactions have become a large piece of the general social sphere of IMSA, and the internal affairs of a board can dictate how the rest of campus will view you. For some, every move as a club member/leader feels like moving chess pieces on a board. Will I step on someone’s toes? Is this something that I need to consult another club about? Is this a good choice? Will this be received well by the student body?
In the face of such large questions, the commitment continues. People are sucked in further and further, often adding more to their plate in the hopes that they will be able to manage them. The times for self care and exploration are reduced in the face of meetings and club responsibilities.
Despite all of these raised issues within IMSA’s club culture, I’ve met many who go against the grain, refusing to continue on the path of overcommitment and burnout. One of my favorite people, Kelly, isn’t afraid to make an assessment of their commitments, and if need be, they will drop a commitment when their mental health and physical health are in jeopardy. Others tell me that they schedule their meetings around a window where they must eat meals, and I opt to do the same. I have been told I have a tendency to carry random food items around campus (my current favorite recommendations: giant jugs of mango juice, shrimp spicy ramen, Lexington pizza) to eat during meetings, and my project meetings have often ended up into rant/planning sessions over a meal at Lexington.
To those who are tumbling into the abyss of club related stress, I know it’s a lot harder than it might look to just reduce your amount of clubs like many say. It’s a lot easier, however, to take your fifteen minutes. Schedule breaks into your day when you can, and have your non-negotiables (the midday meeting just might have to wait, you plan to set time for dinner and personal time every day, not talking to your friends on clubs about them 24/7, and responding to club related messages received after 12am the next day). This might deviate from the norm of what you expect yourself to be as a person involved in clubs. Often, the person who leads multiple clubs and never has time outside of meetings is our inspiration. They are the metric we hold ourselves to to determine whether we are doing enough. I would know, I often idolized those same people as a sophomore. And, every time, I think about how much I do, even now as a senior, I put myself in an imaginary race against people who I think are doing more. At IMSA, inspiration is often tied to the ways we work and commit ourselves to our clubs, but we can inspire each other through the ways we take care of ourselves as well.
I’ve learned the hard way that my clubs will not follow me past IMSA, but my health will. When I think back to the sleepless nights, falling asleep in my classes, and sneaking snacks between meetings, I look back with dismay instead of pride. I looked happy and productive, and was doing exactly what I thought was right, but felt miserable with every single club task I finished. I was supposed to be happy but fell asleep every night worried and anxious. And, I’m sure others on campus might be feeling the same way.
Students might not be able to overhaul the overcommitment pipeline at IMSA overnight—it is reinforced to a level of impenetrability. But, for those of us who have already fallen through it, we can attempt to bring ourselves back up. And, for those who will watch our example as student leaders, we have the responsibility to promote prioritization of well-being. You are part of the larger solution that stops students from falling into overcommitment. By supporting yourself, you are advocating for others, so take your fifteen minutes. Who knows how far they’ll impact will go.