Stress-free + guilt-free student life - possible? How I achieved it

Opportunities to involve in a new activity that slightly  interest you are everywhere - and they usually pop up in times when you are already overloaded with work. Anyways, most people would still  advice you to take advantage, no matter what - because they think that this would made you a more interesting person or will give you somehow, better prospects for your career.

I used to be that person, as well. I got involved in every NGO I had access to - and nearly every project that didn't require much of a financial investment. I developed a (medium-) large network that way, therefore opportunities to get involved in the next "big, life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime project" or just casual events or speeches emerged on the go. Some people even told me that I seem to be everywhere and they asked me how could I manage to learn at a competitive lyceum at the same time. The truth is - I didn't. My room-mate would agree - seeing me how I usually returned exhausted around 9 p.m. and how I procrastinated on doing the real work required from me. New activities were like a drug - I felt an enthusiastic "high" every time - and an unproductive decline afterwards. Then comes the guilt, as in the drug consumption pattern. Painful guilt and a deep feeling of unworthiness.

Most of these activities were pointless, maybe because the range of what the chosen ones had the common un- or low-paid trait that meant that inexperienced people gave them. Trainings gave a global outline of what I have already read about in dozens of books and articles. Speeches mostly reminded me to follow my "passion" or were an explanation of the worldview of the speaker. But I cannot say they didn't benefit me in any way. With their help:

1) I have met people with similar views on life, society and future.

2) I learned a lot about how to interact with persons from different personalities, backgrounds and/or  cultures (from abroad).

3) I have learned to accept opinions and defend mine, therefore challenged my views on a wide range of subjects.

But  as I have leveraged this benefits into personal values, at some specific points in my life I start to dramatically unclutter my schedule. The previous one occurred when I had to prepare for my BAC exams and I realized that if I keep the amount of ungratifying activities that were regular in that period of time I would fail one exam and get poor grades on the remaining ones. The natural decision that came afterwards was to clear up everything on my agenda and instead turn to learning. If I had made this decision earlier than one month due my exams, I could have done better - but, hey! No time for self-pity!

How do I choose now?

1) I focus on what's mandatory. If you do what's required first, you can pursue guilt-free your other activities.

2) I have one or two activities extra that would make me grow substantially in my areas of focus.

3) If 2 activities compete, I choose the one with maximum return on investments.
And by investment I don't mean (solely) money, but time spent doing real or fake work. I choose to spend less time doing something result-focused over meaningless and time consuming tasks that an unqualified person could tackle with the same success (showing up at meetings or answering a questionnaire, for example). Going for an hour-long meeting in which you'll productively work at most 15 minutes, while also spending 1 hour to commute (15 min over 2 hours invested = 1/8 or 12,5%)

4) Use the free time to do whatever I want.
I'm not telling you to not get involved at all in extra-curricular activities. I'm advising you to choose wisely and work diligently on that matter of choise. The rewards and the peace of a mind not troubled by guilt and stress that come afterwards are greater then the short-term benefits and enthusiasm of hopping from one flashy thing to another.

Quote I've found in my "thoughts' book" by Julien Smith, innovator and best-selling author:
"Louder is not the answer. More is not the answer. The important moments in your life happen with your friends or by yourself. Nothing important ever won an Academy Award. If everything in life is getting louder, I'm going to get quiet."

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Pursuing your passion will not help you find a job

Cal Newport's advice on having a remarkable career is based mainly on the philosophy that passion will follow after you are really good in a field - and you should not try to find a career that you feel passion for in the first place - because longing and searching for a "dream job"  is meaningless - nothing will ever truly be a perfect fit - and it also can turn out to be not so rewarding as we might have thought.

He recommends instead:

1) deconstructing the field in which you are trying to achieve success:
*who are already the best out there?
*why did they succeed?
*how can you leverage your skills and knowledge to surpass them?

2) keeping a highly-focused approach to your work and ignoring the urge to have multiple projects at once.

There is one more question left - the most important one for me - which field to choose?

Unlike most high-performers, I didn't start early in life with something that could be the field I choose to specialize in for the rest of my life. Actually, I'm clueless about it - and strength finder tests are not helping much, and trying to figure it all by myself is painful as hell.

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Nicoleta Domnicu