I am a chronically busy person. The way my brain works means that in order to motivate myself to get things done, I need to have so much on my plate that I don’t have time to waste. That was my way of life in high school — do homework in class, crochet during play rehearsal breaks, and play Dungeons & Dragons and The Sims 4 on weekends. But college is a different monster entirely. Now that I’m studying what I’m passionate about, I rely less on cramming my schedule with activities to keep myself on track.
When I finished high school, I was ready to leave Portland. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited and anxious to see what waited for me in San Francisco. I’ve learned many things during my first year of college, but I think the most important is how my perception of rest and responsibility to honor my own passions has shifted.
My high school graduating class had 50 valedictorians, and I was not one of them. I was a good student, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my mental health for my GPA. I had set boundaries with myself around school, but I still felt guilty and angry with myself because my “best” wasn’t the same as that of my peers. I knew that under different circumstances — if the pandemic hadn’t forced my junior year online, if I sacrificed sleep and friends — I could’ve performed better academically.
Although I still run in circles where performance is prioritized — notably, the Honors College — I’ve found during my first year that my peers and teachers seem more focused on learning and practicing critical thinking than worrying about GPAs. In high school, memorization was prioritized, whereas with USF’s small class sizes and peers who I have gotten to know, I feel more comfortable engaging in deeper discussion. The material that I’ve engaged with here has often been thought-provoking, and even when it isn’t a topic I am personally invested in, I still see the value in it.
Studying and working in media enthralls me, which has been a huge aid in finding motivation to get work done, but inertia’s hold on my life means my workflow frequently embodies the idea of “all or nothing.” If a new topic or project catches my fancy, it is all-consuming, and I become overworked and ignorant of the responsibilities that exist outside of my shiny new toy. Perfectionism is the monster guarding the other side of the coin — if I’m working on something where I know I don’t have the time or interest needed to complete it perfectly, it often seems like a better idea to not do it at all so I don’t disappoint myself.
My junior year of high school was one of the deepest struggles I have gone through — I was extremely depressed and lonely, and my mental health issues compounded with my ADHD so that doing schoolwork was near impossible. Writing is one of my biggest passions, and yet I still got a C in AP Language and Composition because I was too far gone to fulfill the class requirements for an A.
Although I am in a better headspace now, I still grapple with my mental health and ADHD — while I enjoy learning, finding the motivation to do so is often difficult. My life is a constant battle in which time has the upper hand; I sometimes feel like I am sitting in a birdcage while the world plays in front of me, spinning at an unstoppable pace.
Being surrounded by others who fuel their own curiosities without the need for unhealthy competition has allowed me to feel less guilty about enjoying my hobbies, and helped me focus on building relationships. However, I have also dealt with mental health issues, and am proud of myself for my re-energized enthusiasm for school.
Sometimes I discount myself, but the relationships and passions I have cultivated in college so far have shown me how much I am capable of despite my challenges. I am the youngest person on the Foghorn’s staff, I have built so many new friendships, and just this week my work was broadcast on KQED — those are accomplishments I have worked for and achieved.
As this year comes to a close, I am taking with me a new understanding of how I like to push myself in things that interest me, and how I don’t. I hope to keep letting go of the guilt surrounding the idea of my “best,” so I can further cultivate all the seeds I’ve planted so far at USF.
It’s not easy to balance life, period. But it helps to stop caring about what everyone else is doing and redefine what “your best” means for you.