We have all heard this story before. What we were in high school and what we imagined ourselves becoming in college. Our reality, unfortunately rarely matches up with our expectations. In high school, my work-load was never enough to fulfill me, so I always did more than the required amount. I debated and I wrote and I took Literature and Math and all of those AP classes that I’m sure half the population at Hopkins took.
But college couldn’t have been more different.
When I got here, I wasn’t sure what it was. I was barely hanging on. I kept up with my classes only to feel like nothing I did was enough. Gone were the days where I could juggle five different subjects and three more extracurriculars. I was constantly tired and always felt like I could sleep more despite having slept a full seven to eight hours. But most of all – I constantly felt like I was not good enough.
This is a pretty familiar feeling in college – feeling inadequate and stupid and not deserving of the place you are at right now.
I always had a solid reason for why I couldn’t take on the course load that I wanted to. First, it was that it was freshman semester, and I needed to be gentler with myself as I adjusted to life at college.
Then, my mental health was at stake, and my experiences with PTSD didn’t help. After that, I was allowing myself time to heal.
But this semester, yes, finally, this semester when past wounds seemed to have (almost fully) healed and I was in a much more stable state of mind – I found that I still could not cope with a full course load.
And that’s when I realized that maybe I needed to start looking at my priorities. Maybe academics is not mutually exclusive to mental health, but instead they go hand in hand. And so if academics are taking a toll – my mental health will suffer as well.
So maybe I could do all those things in high school. Maybe back then even five extracurriculars weren’t enough. But maybe I also have to remember that I’m not the same person as I was in high school, that we as individuals are constantly changing and at different times our mental health needs different things. So while taking a thousand extra classes was what I needed then; now I need something else – a more balanced workload. And that’s okay too.
It has been almost three weeks since school started, and I have noticed that the feeling of being less than their fellow Hopkins students is quite pervasive among my peers.
I have seen people overloading and taking harder classes. Some of them were able to cope seemingly fine, and I could not help but compare myself. So I got into a toxic cycle of comparing myself to my high school self and also to others here.
But then I remembered that I am an individual with individual needs, so comparing myself to others isn’t really fair. It’s easier said than done; it’s difficult straddling the line of deciding whether I need to push myself or to say enough and take the “easier” path.
It certainly doesn’t help that I come from a culture where the “difficult” path is considered the most rewarding one, or that at Hopkins you often find circles who pride themselves on their sleepless nights, immense workloads, and never ending problem sets.
We need to redefine what makes us successful. If we stick to a narrow definition like the number of credit hours we take, we are doing a great disservice to ourselves.
We as humans are so varied, our needs so diverse, our paths to happiness so different, that a rigid, one-size-fits-all definition of success is completely unreasonable.
So, if you are that person who can handle a huge workload, I’m happy that you are happy, but if you aren’t – maybe it’s time to reevaluate whether you really need to take on all those courses or activities in one semester.