When the Grind Stops

I fully, with my whole heart, love school. I don’t think there’s an appropriate preamble to that that could possibly communicate how much.  I’ve loved school since the first day of first grade, when my teacher marked out cubbies with Expo marker and I picked out my first-ever library book. Ever since that first day, something about the repetitive structure of school has allowed me, a person with little natural inclination towards such discipline, to find order and purpose in my activities, and in life at large--and in college, this ability to measure my personal progress through my academic achievements has only become more pointed, as those subjects that had annoyed me (math and science) begin to edge their way out my class schedule, and the things I do care about (writing, literature, and art) take their place. Now, when I finish a paper or draw for a project, I really feel like I’m doing something important, improving my skills and gaining new knowledge so that when the day comes when I finally graduate, I’ll be equipped to enter the larger world.

Photo by Element 5 on Unsplash

    But, for all of the structure and skills that higher education have afforded me, I do feel that there is a fairly severe problem with the way that I have learned to value my work. Because I have spent so many years placing  my schoolwork above all other things, my brain is hardwired to devalue any activities that exist outside of the academic world--and as a result, I often forget to do tasks I need to do in order to function, and if I’m working on something outside of school, I’ll act like it isn’t a big deal, even and especially if the work is difficult. 

This problem has become a pretty large and far-reaching one for me. The value system I have in place makes me feel like any time I spent outside of working on my schoolwork is some kind of cosmic waste, a loss of time that I’ll never be able to get back. As a result, I put off basic things, like doing my laundry and running to the grocery store, while devaluing any work that I do that isn’t graded (such as writing for HerCampus or editing art for my university’s newspaper.) Even my job as an RA sometimes feels like a waste, even though it literally pays for the food on my table and the roof over my head, just because it doesn’t manifest in a change in my GPA. 

    I’ve become acutely aware of my must-be-productive problem this semester, mostly because I’m only taking 14 units (instead of my usual 18). For the first time ever, I have genuine free time, and while that sounds like a dream come true for pretty much every college student, for the moment, I don’t really know what to do with it. Do I sleep? Do I learn a new skill? Do I see my friends? Should I start working out, or going to the beach, or seeking out therapy? The endless possibilities make me feel somehow both free to live and out of control. 

    For now, I’m praying that it will be enough for my ever-busy brain to try and focus on my classes, my writing, my art, and my community. Although focusing on these things may not give me the same spiritual high as a 4.0, I’m daring to hope that by investing my time and energy into things that I love, I’ll be able to level out my smartypants craziness and maybe--if I’m lucky--start to live like a normal, well-balanced person.