I sat in my room Thursday night contemplating all the places where I was not. I had canceled off-campus dinner plans to attend a club meeting, then stayed home from the club meeting to finish an assignment that was due the following day. While attempting to focus on the assignment, I surrendered to the black hole that was my iPhone, which held my attention for the same amount of time it would’ve taken to either attend the meeting or to go to dinner, if not more.
People often joke about the idea of the “Stanford Flake,” tossing the phrase at anyone who dares to cancel an appointment or retract a “Let’s meet up later.” These same people, however, often turn around and find themselves doing the same thing. “I guess we’re all just flakey here,” many conclude.
While students in the Stanford community unofficially categorize the existence of the “Stanford Flake,” it is rare for us to stop and consider why the situation is so prevalent at all.
This university, like most others, is about the future. The lightning-fast pace of the quarter system, the enormous workload prickling with upcoming due dates, the constant stream of emails whose subject lines scream “ACTION REQUIRED” and the flashy advertisements for summer opportunities that emerge right from the beginning of fall quarter all inadvertently construct an environment in which students are always geared toward the next big task: an upcoming midterm, a final, an internship or life beyond Stanford.
Time and time again, I have sabotaged my own plans for the sake of a “productivity” that I never quite achieve, anyway. I’ve missed events that my close friends have exerted painstaking effort to organize in order to study for exams; I’ve neglected to give my full attention to those that I care about while preoccupied with whatever assignment I have to complete. I couldn’t even declare a major that I’d been contemplating for the last two and a half quarters in fear that the commitment to one discipline might somehow influence the rest of my life in some unforeseen, undesired manner.
In many ways, it seems that the easiest thing to commit to at Stanford has been committing to Stanford in the first place, way back during senior year of high school after having spent four years preparing my application in the hopes of securing a future at college.
My only hope for future remedy of this stifling fear of commitment — a process that I hopefully won’t put off any longer — is to lean into making plans and sticking to them. The premise of a romantic relationship is to remain committed against the nebulous odds of the future. The act of meeting up with a friend for a dinner off campus is a means of embracing the throes of the present, so that the individuals involved can maintain their friendship at all. The point of taking care of oneself in a given moment is so that future tasks become less overwhelming as one cultivates the headspace for tending to them. There’s no point in looking so far ahead if there are problems to resolve in the now.
Everyone is always busy, there will always be more work to do. What might seem most shocking is that the “productive” tasks can wait.
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.