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Harnessing exhaustion

| Thursday, March 8, 2018

We’re all tired as we approach spring break. Everyone — students, faculty, administrators and people who work around campus doing all kinds of jobs crucial to making our campus run. The pace here is incredible and sometimes difficult to maintain.

There’s a lot going on in the world too, and many events that weigh significantly on foreign policy. Our military defended itself from an attack in Syria and in doing so, likely killed more Russians than the entirety of the Cold War, and we are still okay with Congress deferring all authority over decisions of war to the president? Syria is a dangerous place and the odds of crisis, especially an unintended one, are high. On crisis, North Korea indicated a willingness to negotiate on denuclearization. But then, we’ve seen this movie many times. Circumstances change but behavior patterns rarely do. We should consider engagement cautiously.

But those are technical columns to be written. It’s almost break, I’m exhausted, and there is something better to write about — to explore how we can find value in being tired before break.

There’s a time for Fortnite, trips to Eddy Street and the other things you’ll do without a bunch of work. But there’s also a time for learning in a way that cannot come from a classroom or a test.

There’s a time for good conversations.

And the best conversations? They happen when you’re exhausted. There’s something about being tired, about your brain reaching the end of its rope, that makes you more receptive to different opinions. You’re also more willing to just speak. Instead of dressing up your thoughts, you just speak in plain terms. What comes out might make sense, it might not. But who cares? These conversations aren’t about speaking.

They’re about thinking. Good conversations — they’re the value of being exhausted.

These kinds of conversations are more than, “What’s up?” more than, “How’s your week? Have a lot of tests?” and even more than exchanging a few funny stories. Those are all valuable. But you’ll be surprised what happens when you take a few more minutes and a couple more steps into conversation to approach more serious topics.

From these conversations, you’ll learn that life isn’t always (or usually, or maybe even at all) about winning. You become more aware of your own shortcomings. And you’ll develop friendships with people who are also aware of those shortcomings. They will argue with you and challenge you relentlessly. And they’ll remain your friends.

As you have more of these conversations, you’ll start to have some with an even deeper impact because they won’t just challenge your opinions. They will challenge who you are, how you think and what you want to be, and they’ll end with, “Let’s do this again.”

These good conversations can only come from your own initiative, from your willingness to use a little free time to engage in some tough questions and tough responses. If you take one thing out of the rest of the week, I hope it is a change in how you think about something. Anything. Maybe the dining hall isn’t as bad as some people claim (it’s not), maybe the best scene from “Top Gun” isn’t when Maverick describes his inverted dive (it is), maybe we don’t know everything we thought we did about God, or maybe we know even more and maybe there’s someone standing right in front of you who will be in your life well beyond these last few days before break.

When you go into good conversations, you have to be vulnerable and you have to really think. It’s not easy. You take on the unknown.

The unknown will lead you to thoughts you’ve never taken seriously and to ways of thinking that you’ve never experienced. It will shake confidence and breed humility. We all benefit from a reminder that there is more going on than what we’re doing, and there will always be problems more serious than our own.

The more tired you are, the better these conversations will be and the more you’ll learn.

So be exhausted, be ready to enjoy break and take the next few days to have a few good conversations, to consider something new about yourself and the world.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Nicholas Marr