“Who are you, really?”
When those words came out of my professor’s mouth, they hit me like a truck. Everyone else in the lecture seemed to carry on scrolling through Facebook or jotting down notes from the PowerPoint. No one else looked like they were freaking out the way I was internally. I sat there feeling like I’d just been exposed in some awful way.
I never really paid that question any mind, never questioning who I was and what I was doing. This time, for some reason, when those words hit my ears, I felt like they created a gaping hole inside of me and I had no idea how to fill it up. It forced me to really look inside of myself and start to figure things out.
College is a time to start figuring out who we are. This is the time to put some pieces of our lives and identities together and begin to grow into ourselves. The external pressures, from our families, social lives, classes, the future and life itself, sometimes feel like they’re drawing in on us, making everything more difficult.
Within all this confusion, who you are and what you want seems to get lost.
I didn’t realize how lost I was until that professor showed me. Take it from me, a person who has and is still going through it, it’s a struggle. I promise it gets easier, though.
Growing up in a tightly knit Polish family, I was always told “Uczyć się, uczyć się, uczyć się!” or “learn, learn, learn!” I’ve had that echoing through my mind for my whole life, a positive motivating factor. I’ve taken that and twisted it into something that makes me stressed out. I think of these words constantly; I get stress out that I should do more.
I tend to put an immense amount of pressure on myself to be the best at everything, like I’m sure many others do. I feel like I came out of the womb goal oriented and focused on succeeding in any way, shape or form. I enjoy going to school, learning and seeing it all pay off in my grades, but sometimes I let the pressure I put on myself consume me. It chews me up and breaks me up inside.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laid awake at night thinking about irrational fears about failing. What assignments are due in the next two weeks? How am I going to succeed in the future? When I’d finish studying for a huge test or writing a paper, I’d get right to the next thing without taking a second to be proud of what I accomplished—let alone a moment to relax.
I was working so hard I realized I never took the time to figure out who I really am.
This year during spring semester midterms, I had an exam in each of my five classes as well as a paper due all within one week. I worked myself into the ground that whole week, studying, staying up, repeating “uczyć się, uczyć się, uczyć się” in my head over and over. Needless to say, I was completely and utterly stressed out.
When it came to Friday, everything was done to the best of my ability and turned in. You would think the stress evaporated, but instead I stressed out over the fact that I had no stress. In my mind, I thought I should’ve been doing something— not relaxing.
I felt bad for taking a break, so I created more work to do for myself.
When that professor asked me who I was, my mind wandered to those moments where I let the pressure and stress consume me. I always thought this was normal; all this anxiety from the weight I placed on my own shoulders about school.
I disguised it and justified it as drive and motivation—which it can be—but I realized for me it was definitely not. This realization was the first step for me to work harder at relieving that pressure and letting myself slowly discover myself by making time solely dedicated to me. It’s not easy to try and change a behavior or way of life— it’s a work in process.
I try to constantly remind myself that being the perfect student is something that’s virtually impossible and that it’s okay to take a break. I plan out my work so that I give myself some days off to relax or do something I enjoy.
Personally, this helps me manage my stress level and do better when completing assignments. When I hear the words “uczyć się, uczyć się, uczyć się”in my mind, I remind myself of the positive feelings that used to come with it.
I feel calmer and happier when I remember to remind myself that I’m doing great and deserve those small breaks to work on me instead of an assignment. Slowly, but surely, I am getting to know myself better and realizing the ways I can make myself happy and succeed in the ways I want to.