Lessons Learned in 2010

Sign: I wish that I could have been warned

Academic education aside, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do in this last half year by doing everything wrong — even the things I already knew were bad ideas. Apparently, I sometimes make the same mistakes just to remind myself why they’re mistakes in the first place.

So some advice to myself and to you for the rest of our university careers (and perhaps beyond):

1. Don’t do three part-time jobs while in school.

This is key. Full-time school and essentially full-time work do not mix. There are only so many hours in the day. Something has got to slide, as my schoolwork did slide in the month of September when I was busy burning myself out.

Oh yes, and I have volunteer commitments on top of all that. I tend to overestimate how much I can take on at a time — for some reason, I thought I could handle it for a few weeks, and I did, but continued to suffer for it in the long run.

2. Don’t get more than a week behind in school. (Two, if it’s an actual emergency.)

This guidelines applies if you’re aiming to do well in school or if you’re particularly struggling with a course. If you’re just aiming to pass and you’re not genuinely afraid of failure, then you’ll live.

It’s not to say that you can’t do well if you fall more than two weeks behind in school — just that it’ll be very, very difficult. If you’re a week behind, you can spend a couple of weekends playing some intense catch-up. A month behind, as I was at the end of September and two jobs, just meant playing exhausting catch-up for the rest of the term as readings continue and midterms and assignments pour in.

3. Most importantly, don’t ever give up food and sleep to ‘cope’. Seriously.

I can’t reiterate this (to myself) enough: sufficient sleep, nutrition and exercise are essential to managing life well.

Because I was rushing around so much, I had cereal in the mornings, sandwiches while commuting, and collapsed in my chair in the evenings with too little energy to make myself a decent meal, or even chew. Definitely not enough nutrition for what I needed to do.

Then I fell into the college trap of sleeping less in order to accomplish more. People are often telling me how little sleep they get, as a sign of how hard they work. Why not join the crowd of four-hours-a-nighters?

Because it doesn’t work for me and, I suspect, doesn’t work for others either. They just say it does.

Mid-October, there were days I literally could not get out of bed without being sick if I woke before my body wanted to. I spaced out and/or fell asleep in the most inopportune places. I missed classes and mixed up the timelines for my readings. Most depressingly of all, I was trying my hardest but my grades were telling me that I was still doing a whole grade lower than when I was getting food and sleep and not even trying all that hard at school.

It wasn’t until I made the conscious commitment to eat and sleep properly again (screw the grades) that I began functioning and doing better. Sleep and food are what saved my GPA from falling into the abyss this term, not quitting on them.

4. Don’t lose touch with the people and things that are important to you.

When you do badly physically and mentally, you can feel pretty badly about yourself. At times like these, you might feel like you don’t want to see anybody, or you feel guilty when you do things for pleasure because they’re ‘wasting’ time you could be using to catch up.

I gave up playing the piano, reading for pleasure, writing emails to long-distance friends, and hanging out with Vancouver ones because I ‘didn’t have the time’.

You have to make the time. Take short breaks doing things you care about to refresh your mind and spirit. Force yourself to get emotional support from your friends and family when you feel badly about yourself. You need them most when you want them least.

5. Don’t beat yourself up.

Understand that you are doing your best, no matter how much you dislike where you are at the moment. It’s easy for other people to tell you what you should do, but no one really knows the full extent of the problems you’re facing or how limited your resources for coping may be. Even comparing yourself to your past self can be counter-productive — you are not in the same place you were and can’t necessarily expect yourself to achieve the same that you used to (at least not right now). So don’t even think about comparing yourself to others. You will get through this if you give it time and keep up the effort. You just need to be kind to yourself.

Have faith that things will improve. Because, as I can tell myself now, they do.

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