Earlier this afternoon I read an e-mail from a sophomore at Yale.
“I’ve always been a good student and I know that I’m smart and capable, but lately I’ve been having such a hard time,” she began.
“I’m having trouble completing assignments, even though I have sufficient time. I avoid seeking out help, preferring instead to just freak out alone in my room.”
This student recognized her trouble as deep procrastination — the exceedingly common student affliction of losing the will to work.
While responding to her message, I had an interesting realization: deep procrastination, though scary, represents something important and perhaps even exciting. It marks that key transition where the momentum of “this is what you need to do” — the momentum that carried you through high school and into college — begins to wane, leaving you to discover a new source of propulsion — not just new, but also more durable and more personal.
It’s important to side step the self-help cliches in this situation. It’s unlikely that you’ll unearth a burning life’s mission hidden conveniently just below the surface of your psyche. What you seek is more fundamental: an acceptance that doing things well is hard, and always will be, and that you need to spend more time than you thought was necessary deciding which such hard things gain rights to your attention.
None of this is easy. All of it is exciting.
With all of this in mind, I had no magical solution to offer this worried sophomore. I could only suggest that she take a step back and reduce the frantic Yale pace, maybe for just one semester, leaving space for her new propulsion to build a head of steam.