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Tylik was my first friend at karate. Even though he was several ranks higher and three years younger than me, we formed an unexpected friendship early on. Perhaps it was our similarity in fighting style, or our mutual love for Chris Brown (pre-Rihanna assault)—I cannot say for sure how our friendship came to be. What I do know is that he made going to karate—before I started to enjoy it—bearable.

After suffering an injury at a local competition, Tylik began coming to the dojo less and less, and eventually, not at all. He popped in here and there for a few classes, making people believe that he was coming back to stay, only to disappear for another six months. By that time, I knew that Tylik was gone for good.

When Tylik was involved with karate, he spent most of his time either at school or the dojo. Naturally, the focus he exercised in karate led to a stronger focus in his schoolwork. The discipline he learned from the sport influenced his behavior at school. He understood that he had to better manage his time, knowing that there were limited hours in the day given the time he put in for karate.

I recently heard from a mutual friend that Tylik's grades have slipped so badly that he may not graduate with the rest of his senior class this year. His behavior in class is not reflective of the discipline he picked up from karate, and he has fallen in with a bad crowd. Without knowing the whole story, it would be easy to say that the stress of keeping up with both academics and athletics got to Tylik, and resulted in his subsequent downfall. But this theory can even more easily be disproven, knowing that it was only when he stopped coming to karate that things at school began to go awry. Contrary to popular belief, academics and athletics don't have to be pitted against each other—being successful in one does not have to mean sacrificing the other. In fact, they can go hand-in-hand, as they did for Tylik, helping you make the best decisions with your time.

The same idea can be applied to any pastime you are passionate about—not just a sport—and just because you put a lot of time into basketball, painting, or singing, that does not make any of these a valid scapegoat for academic shortcoming. It is up to you to make the appropriate time and effort for both. No one has ever said that balancing two things as time-consuming as athletics and academics is easy. But the answer is not to cheat on take-home exams or to “attend” a course that never actually meets—the latter decision being more the result of third parties prioritizing athletics over academics for the athletes, never giving them the chance to be successful in their own rights. It is not up to others to decide how to manage the balancing act—we have to figure it out on our own before it is too late.

Whether athletes are cutting corners of their own accord or people are doing it for them, the point is that academics are just as important as athletics, and the integrity of the former should not suffer for the success of the latter. At Columbia and other Ivies where the workload is particularly rigorous, you would be fooling yourself if you said that finding shortcuts to success in both is not tempting. But in cutting corners, you lose the unique relationship that the two share with each other. Success in both academics and athletics requires the same key elements: a good work ethic, determination, and focus. When you look for ways to get by without one or more of these elements to be successful in one area, you are only compromising your ability to be successful in the other. 

With the start of the new semester, I offer you a few words of wisdom: Prioritize your time, and don't make excuses. The reality is that there is no fast track to success in academics, athletics, or anything. If you want something, you have to put in the work to get it. Academics and athletics share common ingredients to success, making them complementary­—not conflicting—activities.

Melissa Cheung is a Columbia College sophomore. Closing In runs biweekly. | @CUSpecSports

Closing In Melissa Cheung
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