On Activism and Being Involved

Recently I’ve been getting involved in a lot of groups and communities, mainly revolving around university and feminism. I’ve started going to meetings, planning events, organising lunches, attending training sessions. All this is nothing new to me, but at the moment I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed because everything is starting to happen at once. And semester hasn’t even started yet.

Over the past year I’ve been very careful about getting involved with things. When I started uni at the beginning of last year and went to the bi-annual Market Day (kind of like a recruitment day for clubs and societies – the whole uni full of stalls and flyers), I was completely overwhelmed. I felt like all these people wanted me to join their club, their cause. One part of my brain automatically went to “if you do not join, you are not worth anything as a human being” – and the other freaked at that, because it’s something I genuinely used to believe. So I covered my eyes and went home, joining only the choir, because I knew I genuinely loved singing.

There’s a bit of background to this I guess: all through high school, I was one of those students who gets involved in anything and everything. I ran the school’s equity group (which organised whole school events and even inter-school ones), I was the debating team captain, I entered every competition that came my way. I was secretary of the Leos club and the North Coast Priority Schools Student Advisory team run by the education department. I was part of the local university’s youth advisory body, I studied a university course while in year 11 through a special program, I skipped ahead a year in some of my classes and did fifteen units for my HSC. I loved it, even though it was crazy at times. But sometimes I found myself questioning my motivations: why was I doing all this? Did I actually feel as passionately about all this as I thought? Was it just for my resume, for my university scholarship applications? (The ones that didn’t amount to anything anyway?) Or was it because if I didn’t do it all, I wouldn’t be worth anything as a person?

I think I know a bit better now that all three of those were true. I was behind everything I did, heart and soul. But there was also the idea that I had to do all this to be better than everyone else, to get ahead on everyone, or I wouldn’t be worth anything. After meeting many people from different background at uni I can now see how my thinking was influenced by the type of school I was in and the area I was from – a regional, low socio-economic status area, a public school with a careers advisor who told us that we’d never be better than all those elite private Sydney schools anyway, so why bother trying? So I threw myself into everything, wanting to be one of those people who rose above. Being average was my biggest fear.

Through the last year I’ve become ever more aware of how all this has influenced me, by purposefully stepping away from community involvement and extra-curricular activities. Though I still struggle with academics and my own expectations, I think I’ve gotten better at seeing that I’m worth something as a person even without being involved in everything.

Over the summer I’ve started to get myself into groups again. I’ve joined the women’s collective and gotten to know some of the women there, and I’m going to start going to queer collective meetings as well. I’ve written things for their magazines. I’m now secretary of the Classics and Ancient History Society, getting busy organising learning and social events. I’ve signed up to be a first year mentor and put my name down as a Latin mentor for students starting out. I’m still in the choir and have a part-time job. And I want to keep blogging as well, because I’m really enjoying it.

But yes, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment. Perhaps I should have taken it more slowly, but this is the way things seem to have worked out. I’m interested (and a bit apprehensive) to see whether I can pull this all off – and if I’ll be able to say “maybe next year” to anything else that comes up. Or even give something up if I find I’m not managing without feeling less of a person. I guess we’ll see.

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