Ennui

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If you're an experienced policy debater, chances are you've felt it. That dreaded sensation you have where you cease all semblance of productivity and utterly fail in your attempts to motivate yourself to reboot. Where you just want to take a nice long sabbatical and be done with it. There's a specific word for this feeling - it's called an ennui.

Roughly pronounced ON-we, it's defined by Merriam-Webster's dictionary as "a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction; boredom." That's pretty accurate. An ennui can happen at virtually any point in time. They can last for a matter of hours, or they can drag on for weeks. When it strikes, you literally want to shut all things debate out of your mind. I would posit that there are two types of ennui - identifiable and spontaneous. Identifiable ennui have a root cause(s) that can be clearly isolated. Common explanations include lack of personal happiness with the activity, lack of competitive success, negative feelings towards people on your team, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Keep in mind that an ennui does NOT refer to an external locus (i.e. skipping a tournament to take the SAT or neglecting your 2AC blocks to study for tests are simply examples of academic prioritization at work, not ennui). For example, my senior year in high school, I was afflicted with an ennui right before the Cal Berkeley invitational.

I just finished competing at the Stanford invitational that was held the weekend before. It wasn't just that I didn't do so hot there (I went 3-4 over the course of seven rounds), it was simply the nature of how my debates were going down that frustrated me. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was debating with a partner with a lot less experience than me. Beyond that, we lost our first three rounds on theory - trust me, there is nothing worse than beating up on a team up and down the flow...but have the PICs bad theory that they read in the 2AC somehow slip through the cracks of the negative block. Oops. It was a sour experience. I felt like I was never going to accomplish anything substantial. So I went straight up to my coach and told him, "I'm not going to Berkeley." Why should I? I had no chance of doing well. I was a perpetual underachiever and that's just how it was. So I skipped what should have been the most competitive tournament of my career.

Eventually I managed to snap out of it. How? Basically, two weeks later, I went home to a local tournament - the California State Tournament qualifier - and annihilated the lesser competition. I was back to my usual bubbly self. Sometimes all you need is a little bit of regained swagger and extra confidence to dislodge yourself from a dreary haze. The other type of ennui is spontaneous. As the title suggests, a spontaneous ennui has no identifiable cause or explanation. One moment you feel fine, the next you cannot stand the mere sight of timers or highlighters. Fortunately, these tend to be much shorter in duration. For example, earlier this year I was spending the night before a college tournament doing some preparation. About an hour after I started, I suddenly felt no real incentive to continue my work. It was a bizarre feeling.

I immediately closed the lid on my laptop, played Call of Duty for a half hour, and went straight back to work as if it had never happened. The next day, I cleared to quarterfinals. Obviously, the key to breaking out of spontaneous ennui is distraction. Read a book, watch some TV, hang out with friends - do something that can quickly and momentarily take your mind off of debate so that you can come back refreshed.

Thank you for giving me another synonym for being burnt-out or having Senioritis, haha.

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