Growing up, I always had an awful habit of quitting things I didn’t feel passionate about. Piano lessons: once I felt frustrated that I kept forgetting the keys. Playing flute in school band: once I realized that the lessons occupied too much of my summer. And let’s never forget the infamous crying sessions on the way to 8:30 a.m. ballet practice, with enough tears to make any mother shudder. You get the idea. Little me convinced myself that I did not have the capability to do things I didn’t want, to the point that I felt sick at going to another recital, concert or what-have-you. High school followed to a less severe degree, but at a similar pattern regardless.
Something that changed, however, happened with my first job my sophomore year of high school.
I was absolutely horrible at it, due to my inept and frankly embarrassing social skills. Something I could always do, however, was show up when I was needed. If someone needed their shift taken, I could do it. Needing to stay later, count me in. No one else wanted the holiday shift? You got it. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but helping people out in their times when they truly needed something intoxicated me. The phrase, “you’d be a live-saver if you…” became my kryptonite and I fell for it every time. More than that, the anticipation of filling a schedule made me unexplainably excited. It felt like if I did something productive, I would feel happier and more complete as a human being.
I came to college under the pretense of three big ideas: resume building, money making and networking. Just by stepping through the golden doors of university life you earned yourself a mound of debt. You have to make the most out of it. An urge took hold of me. One thought raced through my mind with a fresh panic: you can’t turn in a mediocre resume. You can’t be mediocre. I threw myself into every opportunity emailed, petitioned and recommended to me. And for awhile, this worked. For awhile, I felt like I explored every nook and cranny that the university had to offer. Sure, I missed out on sleep, but what did a few hours matter in pursuit of building a name, a resume?
This only increased by tenfold when I entered my junior year. The fervor I experienced previously felt like a flicker with the panic and obsession I experienced when I decided I needed to do more—to become more. I started joining more and more time-consuming groups simply because I could. It felt good to add an experience, a proficiency, but I knew that I needed more. It didn’t matter how much free time I missed out on, the lack of sleep or the fact that my caffeine intake felt detrimental to my health; as long as it got me a job, it didn’t matter.
It was my senior year, on my way to one of the many responsibilities I had to attend, that it finally hit me: this could all be for nothing. I don’t actually know if it will work out. The panic threatened to overcome me that night, but I pushed back with something more productive, more positive. I have tried and done what I can.
So many of the projects or responsibilities I took on have been a direct result of something I hated, but something I thought would get me a job. I felt no passion for these things. It came to the point where I felt nauseous typing out another sentence, editing another line or going to another meeting.
Looking back in all the ways that I felt overwhelmed with school, I feel a strange sense of gratitude. In a way, each experience did help me. It came from everywhere, from difficult experiences, detail-drawn editing or learning how to take criticism. I feel as though each of these assignments truly made me a better, more prepared person. However, I feel as though I gained another skill the hard way: knowing when to quit.
While the tasks I completed throughout the week felt difficult, I knew they were still in my control. The long nights and stress-induced cramming ahead of me made me feel close to failure, but they never made me feel as though I couldn’t do it (at reasonable hours, at least). The points where I felt myself drained of all energy and self-confidence, however, those were the times where I knew I had done myself in.
You have to know the difference between being stressed and being incapable of doing something. While it’s important to go for your future and try new things, you can’t let yourself burn out before you really start.