For much of my college experience, I’ve been far too preoccupied with a very narrowly defined notion of “productivity.” My involvement in scheduled activities like work, school and tennis practice was productive; anything else was not. I felt guilty for every moment I spent not working on or at something. Only now in DC have I begun to realize how productive not being scheduled can be.
I spent an entire Saturday last month walking around DC. I went from the DC AIDS Walk on the National Mall, to the Crafty Bastards Arts & Crafts Fair in Adams Morgan district, and then back to the Lincoln Memorial for the One Nation Working Together Rally.
Although I had papers I could have been writing and applications I could have been filling out, I walked slowly. I stopped to chat with people. I took time to reflect on the changing atmosphere as I went from one DC neighborhood to the next. I got nothing “done” in the sense that I had nothing tangible to show for the day, and yet I had accomplished so much. I had learned a lot about DC and the people who live here. I had put myself in touch with the city. Perhaps most importantly, I felt utterly at peace.
Another Saturday, I spent hours enraptured by the artwork in the National Portrait Gallery. I studied every painting, every photo with intensity, awed every time by the depth of human emotion and experience captured by the artist. I was intentional about gauging my reactions to each new piece that I saw. I hung back and looked at other museum-goers’ faces, doing my best to judge their reactions and compare them to my own. In the past, I would have viewed the five hours I spent in the museum as a waste, especially considering the long list of work I had (and still have) to accomplish. On that day, however, I was content with how I’d spent my time. Once again, I felt completely at peace.
This past week, I spent nearly an entire night talking to a friend from the Lutheran College Washington Semester program. Although I had work to do – and I’m sure she did too – I consciously chose to stay up chatting and laughing with my friend. I was finally able to realize that by connecting with another person on a real level I was also, in a sense, being productive.
I haven’t devoted a lot of time to schoolwork this semester – the one activity that I have considered the most productive over the past few years – yet this has been my most productive college semester yet. Work, sports, class and other scheduled activities are important, and doing those things well is one aspect of productivity, but it is not all of it.
True productivity goes beyond the academic, athletic and professional to encompass personal growth and achievement. Critical thought and discovery, introspective reflection and growth, and meaningful engagement and connection with other people are productive activities, and I don’t need to feel guilty about carving out time in my schedule for them. We are socialized to think of productivity in a very narrowly defined and materialistic way, but if we wish to be truly content and fulfilled in life we need to adopt a more comprehensive view of productivity that acknowledges us as holistic, compassionate and communicative beings. So go ahead, take a break from your homework and really be productive.
Ayah Kamel is a senior Political Science and Global Studies major from Fargo. She has been verbally spouting opinions since she could talk and is happy to be able to write them down as a member of The Concordian’s opinion staff. Although Ayah does not yet know what the future holds for her, she has latent dreams of becoming the next Nicholas Kristof.