Work Joyfully, Play Joyfully

Dear Dartmouth,

As I think back over conversations I've had during my three years on staff here, I can recall a number of phrases I've heard from students that give me glimpses of the distinctive experience here. One that stands out is short and to the point:

Work hard, play hard.

In my first year, I nodded when I heard it. It told me that Dartmouth students are driven, capable, goal-oriented people, committed to achieving significant accomplishments. Working hard made sense. And playing hard, as a release from the grind, seemed like a logical and normal balance to all of that effort.

In my second year, "work hard, play hard" seemed like it was less about what the students I was speaking with wanted for themselves, and more about perceived expectations from others. This also made sense to me. The people and the culture around us do much to shape our understanding of who and how we should be, and hard work is valued more often than not. But I started to wonder when, exactly, anyone was getting a break to rest and recharge. Playing hard seemed less like a release and more like a coping mechanism for the stresses of termly life.

By my third year, the initial respect I had given to "work hard, play hard" had worn thin. I had encountered too many individuals willing to push themselves to extreme lengths despite the consequences of this lifestyle. I realized there was even an expectation of burnout – that at some point it would all get to be too much, but in the absence of options, the best choice was to simply keep running forward, hoping to make it through.

As someone who works in wellbeing, I want to say this clearly:

"Work hard, play hard" is not about being well.


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