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When I pictured telling my children about my college experience, I did not anticipate that a global pandemic would be interwoven into the story of my junior and senior year. No one could have anticipated these “unprecedented times”, and no one person has the answers to the problems that COVID-19 has created. This is an overwhelming truth, but I tend to find solace in the fact that I am able to continue to endure one of the hardest periods of time this generation will have to endure. Solace or not, I have another overwhelming truth- classes start today. 

At least for right now, I’m not going to write an article about how to set up your google calendar for success- although the Virgo in me wants to very badly. For right now, I want to have an honest conversation about how it's alright if this is the hardest semester of your life. 

Something that is a huge challenge for me, in all aspects of my life, is putting a wild amount of pressure on myself to overachieve no matter the circumstances. While you and I can hold ourselves to our own personal standards during this COVID semester, we have to evaluate how our lives are different now and how that should impact our personal standards. This time last year, I was living on campus, I didn't have to have a job, I had no bills, I had a strong social circle, and the only thing I truly had to focus on was getting myself to class. Today, because of COVID, I have a full time job,a full time class schedule, a lease, bills, a cracked laptop screen, and a copious amount of anxiety about how I’m going to manage all of this while navigating the world of online learning. To hold myself to the same straight-A fully focused school standards is unreasonable when I now have so much more to juggle. I'm learning though, that it’s really hard to change a mindset that has been engrained since kindergarten. In order to achieve mentally and academically, you and I both must take the time to decide how much leeway we are going to give our hearts and brains this semester. Once we make that decision, let's double the amount- we’re going to need it. 

As a side note, I know I can’t necessarily blame COVID for the cracked laptop screen, but I’m going to throw it in there to make myself feel better. 

Another challenging part of this semester for me is the quality of education. I’m an education major and a hands on learner. One of the most frustrating parts of this semester for me is that I am not going to be able to be in classrooms observing other teachers and practicing how to be the best teacher I can be. While I know my professors have worked tirelessly to give us the best virtual instruction possible, I can’t help but be disappointed that I’m not getting to learn the content the way it was meant to be learned. My mind takes me down many paths when I consider this, but the main path it takes me down is anxieties about inadequacy. How am I going to graduate and go into the world with my degree when I feel I’ve missed pivotal points of my degree? How am I going to ensure that I’m getting the most out of my classes when navigating these online classes is a brand new process? How authentic is the learning process going to be if the entirety of it is by myself at my desk without real world experiences to solidify what my professors are teaching me? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but what I do know is that every other student in this country is asking themselves the same questions. You and I are not alone in our anxieties of inadequacy. We have professors that care a great deal about our futures and will account and compensate for the ways in which online learning changes their courses. Our professors will know that this is new to us, as it is to them. Our professors will lead with compassion and kindness, because they will know that that is what we need right now to be able to do what we are in school for. Talk to your professors. Let them know how you’re feeling going into this semester. Let them know what you need to succeed, and allow them to guide you through this. Right now is not the time to impress your professors with how put together you are. Now is the time to impress your professors with how self aware you are in what you need and how to obtain it. We are in virtual academic survival mode. 

Lastly, I want to speak on motivation. Sometimes we just don’t have it. No matter how much you want it, need it, pressure yourself to get it, sometimes it’s just not there. That’s ok. Allow yourself to recognize that. Allow yourself to cry, stare at the ceiling for half an hour, or clean every inch of your apartment instead of reading your textbook. Allow yourself to facetime your friend for two hours, take a walk, or drink a glass of wine instead of staring at your computer screen. Self motivation is challenging in usual circumstances. Self motivation feels like it’s down deep in a well and requires ten people to pull it up in these circumstances. If your mind is screaming at you, listen to it and pivot your actions and mindset. It’s ok if you don’t have it in you when you think you need it. These assignments aren’t life altering- but the way you take care of yourself is. 

No matter if you think your situation is easier or harder than others, your situation is at least different than it was before. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Let yourself take the time to realize that anything you are doing for your future and education is a feat right now. Alongside the feelings of being lost, worried, and overwhelmed, you are also strong, influential, and valid in all of your feelings. 

Good luck this semester, Niners. 

Emily Griffin (she/her) is a Senior at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is a Special Education Major and a Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies Minor. Her writing mainly focuses on hot topic issues, female empowerment in all forms, and social media + all that comes with it. Her hobbies include grabbing a coffee and being a Virgo.
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