Find fartleks through college

While you may want to do everything in college, understand the importance of saying “no.”

President Barry Corey, Freelance Writer

When I began my role at the university a dozen years ago, I received a letter from a college president who gave me some advice. “Start your job by running as fast as you can. Then gradually pick up the speed.” Although I’m inherently ambitious, I soon realized that if I ran full bore from the time I started leading the university, my job would consume and weaken me.

I know you are finishing your semester, so maybe you can tuck this away until the fall. College is not a sprint. You will be depleted if you stack your schedule with so many courses— you will have time for nothing else and hardly time for them. You’ll feel your pulse rate double if you sign up for too many clubs, overload on responsibilities, pull all-nighters and try to “best friend” dozens of your classmates. But college is not a steady marathon either. At times, your semester will be more demanding as you try to balance research papers and mid-terms and work shifts and club meetings and track meets. College is not an even-paced four years of your life.

Neither a relentless sprint nor a measured marathon, college is more of a fartlek. Fartlek is Swedish, a work-out system blending intense physical training with interval training. Exercise physiologists say this reduces injuries by mixing the high-intensity with the low-intensity: running, walking, jogging, sprinting. It breaks the boredom of doing the same workout day after day, semester after semester. Your college life will benefit by fartleking, too.

One day over lunch, I heard the strains of students whose lives had become so busy their stamina was running thin. Student leadership roles can be merciless bandits of time. Co-curricular activities add more stuff to your schedule but not more hours to your day. Friendships are all-consuming. Families at home still need you. Bosses expect you to show up on time. Volunteer service is a serious commitment. Heavy credit semesters compound the academic weight. Deadlines don’t budge, creating stresses as many responsibilities are crammed into a dwindling number of days, then hours, then minutes.

I came away from that lunch with students understanding the discipline of saying “no.” Saying “no” is like the fartlek when you have to decide when you are going to walk and not sprint. Saying “no” to opportunities presented you is not a sign of inadequacy. It’s not a measure of weakness. Learning to limit your activities is a healthy discipline you will carry with you for life, a sign of self-awareness and strength. The more you know yourself, the more you understand your need to pace yourself.

Remember that God created you as a finite human person. Opportunities abound through clubs, sports, social activities, ministries, work and more. You can’t do it all. Focus on what you truly love doing and cut back when necessary. Saying “no” honors the truth that God has created you with limits and helps you foster healthy dependence on him and life-giving relationships in community that come when you let some things go.

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