I HAVE a tendency, when anyone asks, “Don’t you think you’ve taken on a bit much this year?”, to wave a hand and laugh, trying to hide the fact that the laugh is forced and slightly tinged with hysteria. “I’m fine!” I say and rush off to change my stash for the third time that day.
Trying to juggle being in your final year, three committees and other department responsibilities, and the siren call of Cheesy Tuesdays can make for something of a sticky situation. Sometimes I think I’ve really screwed myself over this year by taking on as much as I have but at other times, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, I’m very busy and it often feels like I’m snowed under the weight of my responsibilities… But as I said, “I’m fine!”
If you have a natural tendency towards perfectionism, like me, keeping up with this balancing act can seem like a doomed endeavour before you even start. The desire to do the best you possibly can, whilst making everybody happy and seeming like you’re on top of things all the time, can put so much pressure on us that we put off even starting the things we need to do in the first place – because we’re terrified we won’t be doing them well enough.
Now, a flash forward to me heading into the library to pull yet another all-nighter for an essay I’ve known about for months, because the idea of just cracking on with it fills me with existential dread. Imagine your to-do list as a tangible pile of ‘stuff’ – you can get to a certain point where you have so much to do that just doing one task doesn’t even seem to make a dent. And that’s as intimidating as all hell. Where to even start?
We’re always told that university will be the best time of our lives – and we hear it so often, that we’re under enormous pressure to force ourselves into that frame of mind even if we’re not always feeling like we’re living our best lives at all?
We’ll quash our own mental health concerns whilst telling our friends to get help, and keep running on empty for the whole year, without even acknowledging that something is wrong.
It’s all too easy to forget that we’re here, primarily, to get our degrees. Sometimes we have other priorities, sure. And I’m the last person who would tell you that getting a first in your final exams is the be-all and end-all of your university experience. I, for one, am never going to be grafting into the night in the library to get the highest grades – sometimes I wonder how much more I could achieve if I put the time in but I’m far more likely to put that time into organising my society commitments, spending time with friends or scrolling through Instagram. Sorry, but at least I’m self-aware?
Being caught up in the uni bubble skews our priorities a little. At the start of the year, after coming back from my year abroad, I was often struck by the fact that I hardly seemed to know anybody in Exeter anymore. But friends who spent the past year working instead of studying, having now returned to Exeter, appear to have gained a great deal of perspective on just how little the intricacies of university drama and politics, seemingly life-threatening whilst you’re in the midst of it, matter once you’re out in the real world.
I, for one, go between “being so ready for leaving university and getting on with real life” and “fully prepared to fester in academia forever.” We all take on too much at times. And it’s painfully easy to forget that we’re never really switched off from other people and what they think of us. My advice would be to take a moment to think. How much of what you do and what you let stress you out is for your own benefit? If it isn’t making you happy, drop it and find something new because life is SHORT.
Or you know what – just don’t find something new at all. Use that free time to have a cup of tea and just breathe.