It’s Good To Be Busy
Unpopular Opinion

Many have railed against the perceived detriments of Georgetown’s overly busy, extracurricular-oriented culture. These arguments condense into a few points. First, extracurriculars force students to spread themselves thin not only over classes, jobs, exercise and social life, but also clubs, which are integral to the Georgetown experience. Second, in pursuing extracurriculars, students value quantity over quality. Finally, students’ definitions of themselves and their peers focus not on who they are intrinsically, but — rather problematically — on what they do. However, our busy culture is not necessarily a bad thing.

We chose Georgetown for a reason. We walked these halls, graced by CEOs and royals, and we felt instinctively that the Hilltop was home. We chose to locate ourselves in the American center of power. When we matriculated, we knew what we were getting into. According to LinkedIn, Georgetown is the top school for investment banking: a field renowned for its grueling hours. We knew we would be coming to an institution where professors boast about the studiousness of attendees, where students rightfully pride themselves on their varied accomplishments and — most tellingly — where the library looks like a prison. In short, we willingly signed up for this.

Some believe that, because social life allegedly revolves around organized extracurriculars, there is an incentive to overcommit, which produces marginal returns when a student invests time in five or more clubs. However, the returns actually increase as students commit more — up to a certain, individualized threshold. For one student, two clubs might suffice, but another might crave serious involvement in eight. These cases are dictated by each individual’s personality, physical well-being and time-management skills. Some people actually thrive when given more stress and responsibility. Neuroscientists at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have pointed out that this flourishing might be because of anatomical differences in the brains of so-called resilient individuals. For them, being busier and more stressed is — quite literally — better.

Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. They might even be synergistic. According to Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, successful people have deep experience across disciplines. Using interdisciplinary knowledge allows one to solve otherwise-intractable problems. Doing more separate things can actually make you better overall. Many successful people combine quality and quantity. For example, Elon Musk simultaneously manages three multi-billion dollar companies and Georgetown’s favorite son Bill Clinton kept 4500 books in the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock, Ark.

To challenge the third point, I would like you to imagine something: Someone you love dearly has been falsely arrested and might serve a decade in prison. While you are anxiously waiting, a woman starts chatting confidently with the cops about the evidence. You ask, “Are you our lawyer?” She responds, “No, but I am a good person.” You would go ballistic, screaming that you need a real lawyer to help your loved one.

In that moment, you are seeing the world through the prism of your need. You do not care whether that lady is a good person or not; you need her to be a great lawyer. This is how most social interactions, aside from those with family and friends, work. You cannot pay for groceries with goodwill. You cannot be a brain surgeon unless you have a medical degree. We are very much what we do because that is what 21st-century Western capitalist society expects from us: productivity based on our skill sets. For example, being a “nice guy” will not get me much. It certainly will not get me a job. Even in nonmonetary contexts, I am judged on my ability to do things: Can I cook a delicious meal or be a good boyfriend? I am very much defined, in society’s eyes, not by what I am but by what I do. Therefore, by being busy, we are striving to productively create value that we can, in turn, capture for ourselves. Being meaningfully busy — that is, having singular experiences and accomplishing incredible feats — is exactly what we must do to succeed.

We choose to be busy because there is so much to experience at Georgetown: tough problems to solve, challenging work to do and amazing people to meet. Relaxation can wait, because Georgetown cannot; our finite amount of time on this campus is slowly ticking away. At the end of the day, as Georgetown students, we are atypical people. Maybe we have found atypical ways to fulfill our needs.

 

Rahul Desai is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. Unpopular Opinion appears every other Tuesday.

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One Comment

  1. New Hampshire says:

    Being a nice guy–a good person–is the highest standard to which you can rise. I take issue with your third point

    Being busy is good, but valuing each other only for the skills we can offer another isn’t–and the two aren’t necessarily related. We can value each as people and be busy.

    In an economic context, you’re completely right, what makes us valuable is the skills we bring to the table, our specializations. Adam Smith was 100% dead on.

    But if I sit down in my investment banking group, or in my classroom, in my military unit, or wherever life after Georgetown will take me, I stop to think in a solely economic context. I don’t just want to sit next to the most capable people. I want to sit next to people I can spend 100 hour work weeks with. I want to trust them, to joke with them, to care for them, and to be their friends.

    Nice, good people–men and women for others, men and women with values do more than produce. They change the world.

    Georgetown does an excellent job of preparing us to be workers and leaders. But we need to take the time to realize that there is more beyond work. We have higher purposes than just being useful, producing, and succeeding. Being busy is important, but its only half the battle.

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