How Grind Culture Got the Best of Me

Like hundreds of thousands of university students, I am constantly absorbed in the so-called “grind” culture that compels us to think that our goals will only be achieved if we work towards them incessantly. This “stay grinding” mentality is often perceived as an admirable quality. Someone who grinds is someone who hustles, someone with a good work ethic, someone who is doing a great job at doing what they are doing, according to Urban Dictionary. The expectation for university students, especially those of us with bold career ambitions, to be able to manage an incredibly busy schedule of jobs, courses and extracurriculars can often result in us overlooking our mental health. This recently ended up costing me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My “grind routine” for the last few years has consisted entirely of me working part-time jobs (plus two full-time jobs in the summer in between school) to pay for school, trying to achieve sometimes unreasonably high grades in my courses, and still keeping up with all my extra-curricular activities. I feel pretty good when I’m busy, despite the immense amount of stress being this busy gives me. In retrospect, all the anxiety I felt over the course of my last two semesters at Queen’s, which prevented me from going out on weekends or caused me to have panic attacks in Stauffer while working on assignments, should have been a sign that I should have been taking better care of myself. At the time, I just brushed it off as being stressed out and thought that once I had completed all my tasks for the foreseeable future, I would feel fine again.

This belief, that I would feel fine if I had no dead-set responsibilities for the entirety of a semester, led me to think that when I went on the exchange I had been accepted to at the University of Manchester, I wouldn’t feel anxious at all. The only requirement of me while going on exchange was to pass all my courses (which was going to be easy, since my entire schedule was comprised of bird courses) - and I was going to be able to travel. I thought my anxiety would go away because I wouldn’t be surrounded by the things back in Kingston that contributed to my stress. I was going to be happy, because I was going to be participating in a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I had been excited about for months.

This belief led me to anticipate being far less stressed out than I felt the semester before leaving, while I was focusing too much on school and not enough on myself. I never thought it was worthwhile to reach out to any friends or resources, because my immense anxiety was based around me “just having too much on my plate right now,” and my panic attacks when I was trying to fall asleep were “only happening because I was trying to do too much at once.” I never thought to reach out to any friends or talk to someone about this anxiety because I thought it was normal, and because I thought it would go away as soon as I was on exchange in a place that I thought I was guaranteed to enjoy.

My negligence in addressing how much I was pushing myself and how little I was actually listening to my mental health led me to having to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life: to keep pushing myself and feeling anxious all the time in the UK, or to come home and take a break to re-evaluate my own needs to feel better for when it was time to start working again. After some discussion with my parents, my best friend, and the nicest woman at the Queen’s IPO, I decided to book a plane ticket to Toronto, and to come home to put my own wellbeing as my first priority.

I will admit that I am really disappointed and do feel some regret for the missed opportunity at successfully completing my exchange; however, now that I have taken a little bit of time with no pressing tasks or responsibilities, I understand a lot better how important it is to take breaks to take care of myself, instead of being caught up in always grinding and moving towards my goals at an unrealistic pace. While I may have failed at becoming a successful exchange student, I feel as though I have learned one of the most important lessons, which is to take the time to take care of yourself. After all, it is only a healthy and happy you that is going to be able to successfully achieve all your goals.