The Free-Spirited Achiever: A Collegiate Oxymoron?

As I described on this blog January 2nd, I got rather creative during my recent time-off from academia and decided that “perhaps I’ll make some kind of resolution…to be creative somehow some way every day.” Has that resolution panned out? Well, it’s a hard resolution to gauge, but I don’t think it’s going so well. Despite reflecting over the break on Galatians 5 (“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”), I’m quickly becoming “burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” I don’t want to suggest that academics are a yoke of slavery; on the contrary, education is a great privilege. My attitude toward academics, however, can be quite enslaving. And my attitude lately has looked something like this:

In sum, I think I left my free-spirited, process-oriented self at home and brought my academic, goal-oriented self to college…but then I found my free-spirited self in the bottom of my suitcase and am trying to teach her and my academic self to be friends.

I don’t have multiple personalities, I swear (maybe it’s just like Walt Whitman said and “I am large; I contain multitudes”). But actually I think society encourages this self-bifurcation all too often. We think that free-spirited individuals are not very hard-working (i.e. “Can’t you take things seriously for once?!”) and hard-working individuals are not very free-spirited (i.e. “Can’t you lighten up?!”). As someone who tries to “work hard and play hard,” to be a type A achiever and a type B free spirit, I’d like to suggest that hard work and freedom do not have to be mutually exclusive. Here’s a few ideas I’ve drafted on how to go about living this out:

  • Channel your free-spirited nature into your notes and study materials. Use colors. Make flashcards, timelines, diagrams, whatever it takes. Paraphrase your notes, throwing in comedic tidbits that will amuse your future self when you look back at those notes during finals. My notes from last Friday’s History of Christianity class, for instance, describe a rivalry between Pompey and Caesar as “Pompey + Caesar = rawr” and characterize a particular ascetic community as “self-denial to da max.”  
  • Start assignments as soon as possible, and pace yourself. Free-spirited individuals can be easily distracted and therefore should not wait until the last minute to start an assignment. If we wait until the last minute, then deadlines seem like big burdens that are totally crampin’ our style. If we pace ourselves, however, we can incorporate the deadline into our style.
  • Read or write for fun. (What a concept, huh?) If you’re an achieving type, chances are you like to read or write at least a little bit. And, if you’re a free-spirited type, chances are you don’t want to be told what to do all the time. So, just once, read or write something that’s not on one of your course syllabi just for the sheer joy of it.
  • Pray. As Bill Hybels titled his best-selling book, we are truly “Too Busy Not to Pray.” When your free-spirited side takes over and you can’t think of anything besides lying in the grass watching the clouds, ask God to help you focus and trust Him to do so. And, when your achieving side has the reigns and you can think of nothing but the paper due tomorrow, ask God to put your mind at ease and again trust Him to do so.
  • Remember that, while your professors and parents might be impressed by hard work and good grades, a grade cannot raise or lower God’s unconditional regard for you. The eleventh commandment is not “thou shalt make the Honor Roll.” No, He wants us to love Him with our whole selves and to love others as ourselves. Period.

It is truly for freedom that Christ has set us free — and not just when we’re at home or on breaks but anytime and anywhere. We’re free from being defined by our past achievements, present GPA, or future employability. In freedom, we don’t have to achieve. And, in freedom, we can achieve.

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