On Burning Out
The 2016-2017 Winter Session marks the first academic year over the course of my undergrad during which I have not felt like a student.
I feel more like a sad, perpetually tired 22 year old slowly sucking the passion, energy, and will to learn from the younger, real students in my classes. I’m not saying that 22 is old (I have older friends who would hit me for saying that), but I can feel a distinct difference between myself (overworked, fraught with “senioritus,” dragging my heels through my fifth year) and other students who have not yet spent as much time as I have within the dingy walls of Buchanan.
For the previous four years, if someone ever asked me what I do with all my time, I have answered that “I’m a student at UBC.” Now, the same question trips me up. Do I tell you that I work at a restaurant? Or about my other job working at the Chapman Learning Commons? Or that I’m taking three classes at UBC to finish up my undergrad? Or that all I really do with my free time is watch the entirety of ‘Friends’ over and over again? Since I haven’t really identified with the label of “student” so much lately, I’ve been more inclined to answer with one of the first two statements (and occasionally with the last).
Not really feeling like a student means that my priorities have shifted. I don’t actually think about school that much (I think about it less than I should, in fact). I spend more of my time thinking about the fact that after today, I only have to do this whole student routine thing 23 more times. If I devoted all the time I spend thinking about the number of days I have left in my undergrad to actually doing homework, I would probably have finished all the assignments for all three of my courses already.
In being burnt out of university, one betrays a certain privilege. The fact that I feel like I am fairly saturated in academic knowledge, that I have learned so much that I’m actually tired of learning, and that after five years of post-secondary education, I’m still financially comfortable really says a lot. This is something I’m trying to be more cognizant of when I complain 526 times a day about how tired I am of school. Education is an enormous privilege, and that is one of the reasons I’m trying to combat burnout.
If you’re also a sad, perpetually tired 22 year old (or somewhere thereabouts) who is trying to be less sad and perpetually tired, maybe some of my objectives will apply to you, too.
Objective 1: actually listen in class. I’m a constant daydreamer. I’m pretty sure that my default when a professor is talking is to tune out. It’s bad. I honestly do love my fields of study (English and Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice), but for some reason, if I’m sitting down and an older, professorial-type is lecturing, it is so much harder to listen than when literally anyone else is talking. For the past week, I’ve had to fight the compulsion to let my attention drift, but I’ve found that the concentrated effort actually does make a difference. I’m more engaged and interested in all of my classes. Maybe this is obvious to people with longer attention spans.
Objective 2: take time for yourself. Being burnt out and tired means that I don’t feel I can take on all of the commitments I had even just last term. I’m trying to listen to my body and mind and not push myself to exhaustion this term. That means that I’ve stepped back from some volunteer commitments and carved out specific days of the week that will never involve homework. Last week I got an extra shift covered so that I had a three-day weekend and I haven’t been that happy in months. Taking the time off is worth it (and try not to feel guilty about it. Productivity is a capitalist construction, but that’s a topic for a longer blog post). School/work/life balance sometimes seems like an impossible goal to achieve, especially when you factor in time to just do nothing. I’ve learned that it’s okay to cancel plans sometimes if you need some extra time to yourself. It’s okay to reach out and ask for what you need.
Objective 3: surround yourself with supportive people. It’s okay that you’re tired! Degrees are a lot of work, especially towards the end! I’m finding myself leaning on the people I love a little extra these days, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are few things better for my mental health, personally, than being around people I care about and who care about me. I’ve found this to be integral in my final push towards graduation. It’s also helpful to connect with people who are feeling the same way that you are. A lot of my friends are burning out, too, or have just recently graduated and quite clearly remember what senioritus is like, so my stream of complaints is met with more sympathy than it maybe should be.
Objective 4: plan fun and stress-relieving activities. It always helps me to have something to look forward to whenever I wake up on a rainy Monday morning. Whether that thing I look forward to is a party on the weekend or a post-work nap, I’m trying to stay positive. Last weekend I went on a trip to Sechelt with two of my closest friends and it was absolutely soul-restoring. I didn’t know how deeply I needed to drink coffee on the patio of a wooden cabin by the water just after sunrise, bundled up in a blanket against the crisp morning air, until I did it. Of course, it can be challenging carving out time to go on vacation when you’re juggling so many responsibilities, but the mindset applies regardless of how extravagant your stress-relieving activity of choice is. I’m trying to remember that I am more than my GPA, and sometimes doing that reading can wait a little while.
Objective 5: similarly to objective 4, think of the future. (Except not during class.) The undergrad period is a pretty incredible one, but it’s also emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s okay not to love it all the time, especially when the general student discourse is that we are all supposed to have 4.0 GPAs, volunteer, stay active, have a social life and never experience stress-induced breakdowns. I’m trying to practice excitement for the future, for the next chapter of my life, rather than focusing too much on being unsatisfied with what I’m doing now. Time passes whether we like it or not. Such an adage is usually employed in order to encourage people to enjoy what they have while it lasts, which is certainly still true, but it can also be useful as a reminder that your undergrad will eventually be over, and deciding what exciting steps come next is up to you.
Well, reader, do you feel better? I’m not sure if I do – not yet, anyway. But I am making a promise to myself to keep these five goals in mind as I do my student routine 23 more times this term. Though I do (grudgingly) agree with whoever first said “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” I have a sneaking suspicion that the bitter taste of ‘senioritus’ was foreign to them.