Time-out

“I need to stop ignoring my passions in favor of ‘succeeding’ in college.” File under: things I probably should have been able to articulate and realize a long time ago.

This fall marks the beginning of my fourth year in college, which means another chapter in my ever-tempestuous relationship with secondary education. Before the semester began I was excited. For the first time in my entire college career I spent the final weeks leading up to the first day of classes actually looking forward to them, instead of contemplating dropping out of school entirely. This was a big deal for me and the energy of it kept me content for the first three or four weeks of school. Then I began to realize that the classes I was most excited about felt boring, the challenges of the more difficult classes felt discouraging instead of motivating, and the newness of my new job had me feeling insecure and unsure of myself. Not to mention, my ongoing struggle to find a sense of community and support among my peers had seemingly hit a wall.

Unfortunately, when I hit roadblocks like this my tendency (which somehow always seems like a good idea at the time) is to throw myself entirely into one thing with blind determination, high expectations, and very little tolerance for my own feelings and needs. Usually that thing is school because it feels like one area in which I have control over how well I do. I fall into a thought pattern that revolves around the idea that school and my ability to perform well in it are the most important things about me. Once in this mindset it is only a matter of time before the behavioral pattern it produces becomes apparent. Fear not, I will save you the pain of reading the carefully written out description of this pattern that I wrote while I was journalling this morning. But I will tell you that it leads to rampant self-criticism, exhaustion, and eventually these really fun emotional breakdowns that sometimes result in cool adventures like crying in bathroom stalls on campus.

I spent the passed two weeks in this final phase of the pattern. Although this isn’t the first time I’ve been through this cycle, this time is different… maybe because I went through it more quickly, or maybe I was able to recognize what was going on more this time. I am not entirely sure, but this weekend I was able to take a bit of a time-out to deal with it. Between time with friends (a form of self care for my little extraverted heart) and reflections brought on by journalling and Salinger (the product of finally having a few spare hours in my life), I have had the space and energy to think more clearly. And today it’s just hit me really hard, that the value I place on my academic achievement is up to me. But my value as a person is inherent and not dependent on what grades I get, or my levels of productivity, or on my inability to meet my own ridiculous standards. As simple as that all sounds, there are a lot of voices in my head working to tear down that truth. So I am taking a couple approaches in my counter attack.

The first of these is simply reminding myself of my inherent value even when I don’t believe it, so that it eventually because a thought pattern. (These are the kind of solutions you come to when you were raised by a guy who studied applied psych, thanks, dad.)

And the second is that I am challenging myself to make time to do things that I am passionate about, even if it means letting go of my goals of academic perfection a little bit. Before college I always had a rich life outside of schoolwork, and I feel like I have lost that a bit, so I am challenging myself to create it again. I am not sure what that will look like yet, but I am excited and energized by thinking about it, and I want to hold onto that.

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