Column, Opinions

Of Hamsters and Men: A Silent Plea to Stop Working

I have never owned a pet hamster, but I can imagine they are fun, lovable creatures. 

I once knew a classmate in elementary school who would not stop raving about her orange hamster, Priscilla. She looked for every opportunity to talk about her, sharing moments when the hamster had curled up in her hands during family movie nights, performed a tummy roll for a couple treats, and kissed her nose softly. 

“Priscilla is such an impressive hamster,” my classmate told me. “She honestly feels like a human best friend.”

Now, although hamsters may make convincing humans, it goes rather uncontested that humans do not make good hamsters, which is something I wish I realized earlier in the semester.

You see, I am in the middle of one of the worst midterm seasons of my life. Having taken what felt like a billion exams last week, I entered this week hoping to get a reprieve. Wishful thinking. Instead, I stared down at what looked like the Test Taker’s Hall of Shame, with upcoming exam after upcoming exam simply waiting for me to prove that my head was, in fact, rather empty. Unfortunately, this visual was not simply the dramatized product of my exam anxiety, but a prophecy that was tragically fulfilled. 

I can still smell the ash lingering in the air from the exam I bombed yesterday. I can still feel the resulting devastation in the pit of my stomach along with a sort of wilting defeat. I continue to  carry the burden of responsibility for this tragedy, along with the ominous musings of “what if I had done more?” Burdened by the weight of my failure, I cannot muster the energy to hold the more painful truth: I had done everything possible with the time I was allotted. It just so happens that I didn’t have a lot of time. Why? Because I was busy being nothing more than a hamster in distress. 

If I were to look back on the past two weeks, I can confidently say that I did not take more than a few minutes of free time to myself. Every moment of every day was consumed with either studying for a midterm, submitting an assignment, or attending class itself. And if I wasn’t doing those things, I was tending to my extracurricular responsibilities, running errands, or tending to my basic needs. In other words, I was a hamster spinning in an endless wheel. Barely managing to tackle each assignment and commitment in time, I was only able to turn my attention to this beast of an exam a few hours before I would meet my fate. Naturally, the odds of memorizing an entire month’s worth of class content in less than 120 minutes are rather dismal, and so you can guess what happened. 

Now anyone reading this can understand this is no new story. This is simply college hustle in action. After all, students bust their brain cells on a daily basis. We relentlessly pursue every due date like it is the winning lottery ticket, hoping that the next one will be the last. Although I can engage in this cycle and convince myself that I am becoming an academic weapon, I cannot shake the knowledge that I am little more than a sad, frantic little hamster. College has regimented me such that my every action is taken to progress one peg further in this hamster’s wheel. In truth, I have become robotic in the severity of my schedule. Yet it is not just me. I have watched my friends beat themselves up for not working hard enough, despite sacrificing all of their sleep to study for the next exam. I have watched classmates skip meals to finish assignments on time or isolate themselves to heighten their productivity. Sacrifices made over and over again, all to ensure that they can keep up with the dizzying speed that college demands of us.  

I say this with all proper condemnation and sadness, but in all honesty, I do not have a solution to the hamster wheel. It isn’t really up to me. I am no fairy who can wave a magic wand to force the world to stop moving at the speed of sound. I cannot create a magical schedule in which no exams or assignments overlap, or coincide with other commitments. I can’t even transform my own hamster wheel into a nice cozy bean bag (no matter how hard I’ve tried).

Limited as I am, however, I write this article as a way of creating a pocket of space to hold a truth that I often forget: that life is not meant to be a series of deadlines, to-do lists, and external obligations. Devastated as I may be for failing an exam—for missing one rung in this ever-spinning wheel—I cannot forget how full my life truly is. As a human, it is the moments of peace, joy, laughter, connection, and boundlessness that are my birthright. While I cannot access  these moments as fully and completely from the ragged insides of my hamster wheel, I can always grant myself permission to step out and experience life more completely. I like to call it opting for the Ferris wheel because in stepping outside of academia’s torture machine, I can gain a higher perspective on my life and the beauty that it holds. 

To those of you who have followed me thus far in my musings on hamster wheels and harmful productivity, I sincerely hope that you find time to hop off the wheel today and bask in the stillness that comes with being alive. We are humans, not hamsters, and we owe it to ourselves to carve out the time to simply be. 

I suppose, just as my elementary school classmate suggested, hamsters are capable of being much more than fuzzy little creatures. The next time you see a hamster, know that it is a sign that time to vegetate is on the horizon. And if for some reason you don’t see yourself crossing paths with a hamster anytime soon, then let this article serve as the omen you need.

November 14, 2022