This article isn’t going to tell you how to build a Notion or optimise a google calendar. It’s not going to tell you how to write a 1st Class Dissertation or get that Graduate Job. Instead this article is me writing the things I think I need to hear and you might need to. Alice Nott shares her advice.
Not everyone will agree, some will think I am a crazy person who’s going to fail her degree. Some of you might think for all my talk about perspective I have no realistic view. You might just be right, but I am not really writing this article for you. I’m writing it for myself and perhaps publishing these thoughts adds the weight I need them to have and makes the goals I set more concert. If someone wants to write the counterview, I would love to read it.
It’s sometimes better to step back
However, this is my article and so this is what I came up with when I had to ask myself:
“HOW AM I GOING TO SURVIVE THIS?”.
“Is it that deep?”
This is a favourite saying of my sister and the answer you are naturally inclined to give is usually yes, I mean this is your degree, and you obviously want to do well. However, we are two years into a pandemic and with crisis after crisis mounting it’s sometimes better to step back and have that little voice in your head that asks ‘is it really that deep?’.
There is little difference between the earnings of those who earn a 1st to 2:1 and whilst it may be nice to have your name read out first, in reality that extra 10% is often little more than that. In fact the mental stress that you put yourself under for that higher class can often have more detrimental effects in your employment outcome than pacing yourself and looking after your mental health.
Degrees and grades aren’t always the be all and end all
I know it’s easier said than done but you often need to put into perspective all you have been through these last few years, the amount of teaching that has been missed and the fact you don’t want to burn yourself out. Studies have shown it can take 1-3 years to recover from burnout, so I would urge anyone reading this article to consider ‘is it worth it?’. Allowing yourself to be okay with a lower grade doesn’t mean you’re less capable or smart if anything it means the opposite because you’ve realised that degrees and grades aren’t always the be all and end all.
Break and Remake
If something is not working, then break it. I started this semester getting up at 7:15am telling myself those extra 45 minutes would mean I leave the house earlier and am more productive. Did it? No. Instead what happened was I spent the morning stressing about cleaning and tidying before everyone was awake, spent most of the day sluggish at best and then had less time to relax in the evening. At the end of the day my brain likes to go to sleep about midnight and wake up at 8am and that’s okay.
Just because some life coach tells you getting up earlier is going to change your life doesn’t mean it will. At the end of the day you have to let yourself make changes that go against the grain. That productivity influencer doesn’t know you and might have never been where you are so it’s okay to ignore their advice and do something different.
You can break self-fulfilling prophecies and remake them to suit you. Last term I attended every session, having been told it was the key to boosting my grades, and in some modules it helped; in others it didn’t. At the end of the day you know you best and an adult is allowed to make their own decisions.
This is your education, not theirs
Tutors are probably going to dislike the advice I am about to give but if you would rather do your lectures online and reading in your own time and never attend in-person sessions and that works best for you, then do that! This is your education, not theirs. We all learn in our own ways and that’s okay. I have found that for some of my modules, I gain more from doing it this way than attending every session.
Breaking cycles isn’t about leaving your life with no structure or in a complete spiral. This can be as unhealthy and self-destructive as being in an unfulfilling routine. Instead it is about taking the space you need to remake what you’ve got into what will work for you: if waking up at 5am and going to bed at 9pm suits you, then knock-yourself-out.
With so many deadlines it can feel like you don’t have time to take a break, but the thing is sometimes it’s better to. If you have writer’s block or a piece of broken code, then you might need to take a day away. You might have to start stuff earlier or ask for extensions but as the idiom goes ‘if it’s worth doing; it’s worth doing well’.
Don’t feel like every activity you do has to build some career or greater knowledge
I have found teaching myself something completely unrelated to my studies can often help. Last term I learnt to knit, something I have wanted to do for years and this term I am taking a coding workshop every Wednesday. Don’t feel like every activity you do has to build some career or greater knowledge. Sometimes baking a good loaf of bread can be as rewarding as completing an essay.
So now I have done some philosophising. The question is how I make this into a plan for surviving the second semester. Well I am going to set myself goals or affirmations or whatever you want to call them below. You can borrow these or create your own. As I said above, I don’t know you or your situation however they could help you as much as they could hinder you. But if you do give them a go let me know!
- Give myself one day a week where I have nothing to do with university. It is sometimes productive to be unproductive.
- Talk to people who aren’t at university to get some perspective. This can be family, friends that aren’t at Nottingham or even just someone in a café.
- If I don’t get the grade I want, I am not going to let it bring me down. I am still the same person and as capable as I ever was (a tough one I know).
- I will do something each day that builds a skill not related to university or any grand plan. This could be baking, coding, or even just some knitting.
- I will live in the present as much as I can. It’s okay to not have a masters or graduate job lined up (equally if you do great); there are four months left of this year and you can’t just magic time back, so I wish to live in the present.
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