Don’t “Get Involved” If You Don’t Want To

Image by Drake Wong

The other day I was feeling like a bit of a loser. I had been sick for a few days, doing nothing, and I started to fret about feeling like I haven’t worked hard enough this semester. This feeling festered, and I started to consider how I’ve been spending my time in university, too. Have I been “involved” enough? Am I never going to get into grad school or find a job simply because my CV is too barren? 

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has felt this way. It can be easy, especially at a school like McGill, to feel like everybody but you is VP External of sorts, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re not doing enough. 

Despite my never being involved in formal extracurriculars, it hasn’t been for a lack of interests or motivation.

The thing is, despite the mindset that’s been drilled into us that having extracurriculars to put on your resume is essential,  aside from The Bull & Bear, I’ve never really been in a club, let alone ascended its ranks to something resume-worthy. I’ve never been into organized sports, and I’ve never been interested in student government. I am interested in more academic stuff, like economics, but I’ve found even those campus groups hard to make into anything meaningful without becoming an executive, which can be especially hard as a first-year.

Despite my never being involved in formal extracurriculars, it hasn’t been for a lack of interests or motivation. I’ve always had hobbies that I’m deeply passionate about and dedicate a lot of time and energy to. When I was younger, BMX biking was my life, and I spent all day thinking about it, improving at it, and making videos with my friends. In high school, drumming was (and still is) my thing: I’ve been in multiple bands, played shows across Canada, and recorded multiple, full-length records.

Now, I dedicate a lot of my time and energy to rock climbing, going to the gym nearly every day and thinking about climbing buildings as I walk around campus. (I actually tried and almost succeeded to climb the terrace right by the entrance of McLennan, but got security called on me by the Dean of the Library as she urged me to stop from an upper floor window).

I immerse myself in tasks with intrinsic goals which I see as ends in themselves.

What separates doing those activities from participating in extracurriculars for me is motivation system, intrinsic versus extrinsic. I immerse myself in tasks with intrinsic goals which I see as ends in themselves. If I felt motivated in the same way towards formal extracurriculars, I’d be doing those instead. And while, obviously, some people join extracurriculars out of genuine interest or passion, I’m sure some percentage of those who are heavily “involved” are doing it solely, or at least primarily, for the resume points. 

In fact, after having recently applied to law schools and been through some interviews, my friend said that the interviewers told her they can see through a “well-built” resume. They can see that, if you’ve been head of several different clubs, all vastly different from one another, you were likely doing it for the resume points; in their eyes, it calls into question how sincere and passionate you were about those given activities. Indeed, extracurriculars are much less important in grad school applications than we might think, and aspects like undergraduate research and “technical skills” are factored in much more.

Not only are extracurriculars far less important in grad school than we’ve been led to believe, but they’re also not as important in getting jobs as we may think. Cal Newport, a computer scientist and author of the book Digital Minimalism, describes how his extensive extracurricular experience played exactly zero role in his getting a competitive Microsoft job. Newport concludes that, “outside of a few exceptions, college extracurriculars are of minor importance to your efforts to find a job after graduation. There is no benefit to be gained by suffering through an overwhelming load of activities.”

In what was a beautiful coincidence, the day after I was stressing about all this, my Anthropology course instructor made a connection between our perception of extracurriculars as being crucial to a resume and our culture that I had never considered. That many of us feel so pressured to pursue any and every opportunity we can that we believe will increase our marketability is precisely because of the neoliberal culture we’ve been raised in. 

I think any modern-day North American young adult will find some elements of truth in that statement, and feel it true that we’re under constant pressure to be working, to look for opportunities to raise ourselves above others.

In the words of my instructor, Graham Fox: “[We’ve been told] that there are infinite opportunities for us to do business, and that we should think of ourselves as businesses that are always open, always looking for the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over others.” I think any modern-day North American young adult will find some elements of truth in that statement, and feel it true that we’re under constant pressure to be working, to look for opportunities to raise ourselves above others. I purport that this culture of constant work contributes to the unprecedented stress levels experienced by our generation of students, and I’m sure this pressure to do more and compare ourselves to others exacerbates our generation’s mental health crisis.

 I am not suggesting that extracurriculars are worthless. I’m suggesting to circumvent the idea of endlessly “getting involved” in myriad, oftentimes cumbersome activities, and to instead get involved only in those extracurriculars or activities that provide you with an intrinsic sense of fulfillment. Doing things that you enjoy and are passionate about, whether or not they can be placed on a resume, will be more valuable for your success and happiness in life than doing something you merely tolerate, or worse, hate, just for the CV cred. Life is short! So, don’t get involved if you don’t want to, and pursue something instead that will bring genuine satisfaction into your life.  

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