When I would start to stress out about school, my hands would immediately go to my phone and earbuds. I needed to listen to something to take my mind off my thoughts. I would put on a podcast or listen to some music.
But soon, it became a dependency. I couldn’t stand being in silence and thinking about the problems that I had ahead of me. At night, I would try to play a video to distract myself until I fell asleep. I had to face the reality that I didn’t want to listen to my own thoughts.
There’s a general attitude on this campus that if you aren’t listening to something while walking between class, or doing any other activity, then you are wasting your time or spacing out. But in reality, your voice is the most important thing you should be listening to. You are your most important podcast. Listening to your thoughts throughout the day gives you time to think and process your emotions. It allows you to understand more about your feelings, so they don’t rush all in before you go to bed.
The cringey middle school sentiment, “I listen to music to drown out my feelings,” should not be so quickly dismissed on a college campus. A lot of us spend our days filling our ears with podcasts and music so that we don’t have to think about the stress of our lives. We do this so that we can distract ourselves from personal problems or issues. I understand that sometimes taking a break from being lost in thought can be a good thing. Thinking deeply can be exhausting at times. But for many of us, this “drowning out” of our feelings is an avoidance of reality.
In a culture where we strive to maximize every moment, music can seem wasteful, but a podcast is informative. After all, if we’re listening to a podcast, we aren’t wasting time; we’re learning something new. But I want everyone to ask themselves:
“Am I listening to this because I want to? Or am I listening to this because I don’t want to listen to my own thoughts?”
For me, I realized it was the latter. There were moments during my summer at Penn where I realized that I had spent the entire day listening to something. I checked social media in the morning, watched Youtube videos, went to work, listened to podcasts, and filled my entire day with external distractions and stimuli. I now recognize that those days I actually didn’t think about anything. I wasn’t even listening to anything attentively. I did it so I didn’t have to think about the stress of other parts of my life.
There is so much focus on what we can learn from the external world. The culture around us tells us that there is so much information and knowledge at our fingertips. There certainly is, and I am in no way saying that it is useless. But we fail to recognize that the internal is just as valuable.
I am not saying that we should stop listening to music or podcasts altogether. I listen to both regularly; they do have utility and entertainment. I am simply saying that a lot of us need a reset to make sure that we are listening to them because we actually want to.
If you’re unsure of how to start, my internal podcast goes something like this: I ask myself how my week has been going, and if there has been anything especially good or bad. I think about what has been stressing me out the most. Then, I like to look at the things ahead of me, and reflect on how I can improve on handling my fears and emotions. Doing this isn’t just helpful, I believe it’s necessary for all of us.
Here’s my challenge to you: Remove the headphones for one day. Think about why you want to listen to that podcast. Conduct your own intellectual podcast with your thoughts, because it will be more relatable than anything you can find on iTunes.
JOEL LEE is a College sophomore from Groton, Conn. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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