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The hamster wheel of life

| Wednesday, October 28, 2020

“The hamster wheel of life.”

Do you ever read something that perfectly puts your thoughts into words better than you can? That’s how I felt when I was scrolling through Instagram and came across this phrase.

This semester has consisted of its many ups and downs, but, overall, it’s been rough for a lot of people. Of course, nobody expected to go back to normal college life in the middle of a pandemic. And, as a student in the Gateway Program, I knew even without the coronavirus that my first year of college wouldn’t look like everyone else’s. But I’m also sure nobody could have predicted all of the anxiety, national news headlines and tragedy these past few months have brought about.

From the initial boom in positive COVID-19 cases which occurred just a few weeks into the start of in-person classes, to the controversial nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and a petition for the resignation of University President Fr. John Jenkins when he tested positive for COVID-19 after not wearing a mask at the Rose Garden. From the hundreds of students struggling in social isolation, to the unbelievably tragic and shocking news of the deaths of two first-year students on the morning of Oct. 24. So many news-making and/or horrible things have happened in the span of three months that it’s almost impossible to wrap our heads around it all.

All of this occurs amidst a presidential election, a political climate more contentious, scandal-filled and polarized than usual, a national “racial reckoning” as social injustices continue to bring to the surface many institutional flaws which exist in our country and, of course, a global health crisis that’s nowhere near its end with daily cases reaching higher numbers than ever before.

While we watch all of this happen on campus and on the news, we go through an accelerated fall semester with zero days off, no fall break and an abnormal amount of stress over schoolwork, extracurriculars and — I’m sure for many upperclassmen — post graduate employment.

I say all of this not to complain because I’m extremely lucky to be able to go to college and especially to be able to experience it in-person. Rather, I say this to bring me back to that quote: “the hamster wheel of life.” The “Hamster Wheel” describes a sort of cycle which a lot of us find ourselves in sometimes. It’s basically when we get caught up in our personal “to-do” lists and in the busyness and chaos of our world. Each day starts to blend together, and we begin to feel like we’re living the same day over and over again.

With all of the events of this past semester and the increased stress over our academics, the political climate and our individual and public health, we start to feel numb, like we lack meaning in the everyday, like we are being controlled by our lives and what’s going on around us, rather than the other way around, and like we’re forgetting what really matters. Living on the Hamster Wheel can seem like life — let’s say that’s the hamster wheel — is going by fast and out of our control and we — the hamsters in this metaphor — begin to feel exhausted trying to keep up.

In my last column for the semester, I hope to write about this sense of repetitiveness, increased and sometimes overwhelming stress in the particular strange times we’re living in and this feeling of being on the Hamster Wheel of Life to, again, not complain, but in the hope that someone else can read it and feel like they’re not the only ones. Becoming aware of the fact that we’re experiencing prolonged feelings of exhaustion, stress and unhappiness is actually a really good thing because it opens the door for conscious and active change: We can either stay on this hamster wheel and continue running in circles or we can choose to get off, slow down and take back the reins.

Going forward with the final four weeks of the fall semester consisting of what will undoubtedly be a stressful and chaotic presidential Election Day, as well as final exams, let us try not to get too caught up in our wheels of stress and cycles of to-do lists. Let us remember to be kind to ourselves and others, breathe, find time to do things we enjoy which don’t have to contribute to some achievement-oriented goal, get outside and take in the last few weeks of the beautiful fall weather, prioritize spending time with loved ones and making sure to take care of ourselves and those around us.               

May we remind ourselves that life is about more than the obligations, to-do lists and confusion of the external world and feel the freedom which comes with self-reflecting, reevaluating and leaving the hamster wheel into more fulfilling lives.

Megumi Tamura is a first year in the Gateway Program. She is originally from Ridgewood, New Jersey, and enjoys going to museums, watching political debates and eating Jersey bagels. She can be reached at [email protected] or @megtamura on Twitter.

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

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