November 13, 2021
Charlize Villasenor ’23
College is hard. Even though there's plenty of people to meet and plenty of things to do, college is hard. There's not a single thing to pin it on since it's different for everybody. Getting adjusted to a new place and new routine, taking care of yourself when you're sick, making choices like saving money or visiting family on break, the workload itself, and other things are all factors that come with going to college. Sometimes you feel like you're a "bad student" or that you bit off more than you can chew. Being in a slump for a few weeks forced me to think about the choices that have led me to Oberlin and what choices I want to make to shape my life. The intention of this post isn't to scare anybody away from going to Oberlin or college in general, especially since it is what often helps students achieve their career goals. Instead, it's to let students know that college can be difficult. But just because something is difficult doesn't mean it's impossible. This post is more of a personal reflection, so I understand that my experiences won't be the same as everyone else's, but I'm hoping maybe somebody can relate (and if not, it's been nice to put my thoughts down on paper).
I recently went through a bit of a rough patch that lasted about three weeks. I couldn't convince myself to go to class; I felt overwhelmed knowing that I had work piling up, and I felt like a "bad student." I even started to write this post, but I could only write a few sentences before I was too tired to finish. Now that I'm on the other side of it, that period feels quite long ago, but in reality, it was about two weeks ago. I'm writing this post because I want students to know it's normal to feel burnt out sometimes. I won't talk too much about the details of my slump because I feel like it's a different experience for everyone, but there are some common factors. I was awfully unmotivated and simultaneously stressed that my assignments were piling up; it felt like a chore to eat with my co-op, so I would ask them to save me a plate, and I would eat at random times; I put regular responsibilities like laundry and going to the store to the side. I even had professors reach out to me to ask if I was doing okay, but I felt so guilty that I was being a "bad student" by not showing up to class that I would reply days later. Being burnt out affects everyone differently; some people are in a slump for days, and others for weeks. It's a somewhat unpredictable period, but it helped me find my way back to my core beliefs about myself, school, and those around me.
As guilty as I felt that I was acting like a "bad student," I realized that I would eventually have to face my professors at some point and return to class. Did I think they would ask me where I had been and why I had been absent for so long in front of my classmates? Yes. Did they? No. Professors have a lot of genuine care and concern for their students, but they also understand that students have their own lives and personal situations to take care of. I promise none of my professors made an example out of my absences or called me a "bad student."
After some thinking, I realized that the idea of a "bad student" has minimal merit, even if the thought of it has been fed to me for years. Growing up, I always considered myself a "good student" since I would get straight A's, had perfect attendance awards, and other markers of being a "good student" that don't actually matter much. I remember one of the first times I questioned whether I was a "good student" or not was when I earned a C+ in my Introduction to Economics class during my first semester at Oberlin. That didn't change the fact that I wanted to major in economics or make me feel like I was at the wrong school. Instead, I just thought, "okay, now that I have a semester of college under my belt, I can learn from the experience and do better next semester." And that's exactly what I did. Even amidst COVID and being asked to leave campus, I finished my second semester better than my first and had B+'s and A's in all my classes. I think being willing to learn from my experiences (not necessarily mistakes) is what makes me a good student. Even if I don't go to every single class or have a 4.0 GPA, I feel that my willingness to learn the content itself and learn about who I am as a person matters more to me.
Like I said earlier, being in my slump (and ultimately getting out of it) helped me find my way back to my core beliefs. I had to remember and rediscover the things that grounded me and made me feel like a person again. I was ordering delivery and eating a lot of gluten, knowing that it would make me feel lousy, so I stopped. I had been meaning to go back to the gym and include it into my routine for weeks, so I finally threw on my running shorts. I hadn't been to church since COVID hit almost two years ago, so I finally went. My body and my mind were forcing me to finally take care of myself. I also had to do a lot of self-reflection as a result. Why am I at Oberlin? Why am I in college in general? What do I want to do with my life? Will I be fulfilled with my life if I continue on the path I'm on, or am I doing this because I don't know anything else? I went asking my friends how they felt on their personal paths. Some don't go to college, some are taking a personal leave, some transferred, and some are still figuring it out. I asked all of them how they felt about their choices in an attempt to figure out what I wanted with my life, but ultimately I knew it would be up to me to decide what was right for me. I realized that I work well with routine and staying busy; the hours can pass me by if I let them, and I won't even notice. I realized that I need reminders that there's more to life than the here and now. I realized that my life could change in an instant, either through my choices or by the powers that be. I realized that I'm not living to impress anyone but myself; impressing others isn't my purpose. For a long time, I would be embarrassed if I saw people at the gym; I didn't want them to see the way I looked when I was red and sweaty, I didn't want them to judge the weight I was able to deadlift or squat, I didn't want them to see the way my legs jiggled when I ran. I just preferred to go when no one else was around or not at all. I think I was living my life the same way for a long time too. I didn't want to participate in life if it wasn't going to look perfect. I didn't want to go to school if I wasn't going to be a "good student." After all my reflection, I think I'm ready to be at peace with myself and be kinder to myself. I'm not here to impress anybody. If I feel happy, like I'm treating others with kindness, and I'm enjoying the seasons of my life as they come and go, I think that's all that matters to me.
It's been a hectic year, and sometimes I don't give myself enough credit or enough time to recover. I started the year with a legal internship at RCA Records; I quit my retail job and decided I would spend my savings and figure things out when I needed money; I bounced around between Los Angeles, Chicago, El Paso, and Oberlin; I met an amazing group of friends over the summer and spent every day like it was a new opportunity; ultimately I grew into myself and never gave myself credit for it. Sometimes I still feel like a teenager who has to ask permission for every change in my life, but the reality is, I'm growing up. In a few years, I'll be living on my own, maybe in a city I've never lived in, paying my own bills and budgeting my money as I see fit. I won't have to ask permission to pursue what makes me happy. I could call up a tattoo shop and ask to get a sleeve done if that's what I wanted to do or book a different flight every weekend just because an airline company is having a sale. I still have a few semesters before I graduate, but it's finally hitting me that I'll be living the life I've created for myself soon. Growing up and asking yourself what you truly want out of life and who you want to be is a long process, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.
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