You are starting college this month, and feel like you are at the starting line of a race, nervous and itching to get going, challenge yourself and give it your all. Feeling inspired and motivated, you sign up for five extra credits so that you can graduate earlier. You can do it, you tell yourself, if you stay focused and disciplined– and keep distractions to a minimum.
The semester starts, and you are off and running, super busy but at first able – but just barely- to keep up with your classes. Three weeks in and reality comes a knocking. Two of your classes require far more work than you expected. You pull a 34% on your first statistics exam. The student organization you joined- stupidly volunteering to be treasurer – is filling your evenings with meetings and events. You put your social life on hold, which is not going over well with you boyfriend. You begin to feel like you cannot keep up, that there are not enough hours in the day, that you are letting everyone down. You resolve to work harder, and free up more time by cutting down on sleep and cutting out exercise. You promise yourself you will make up for this after the semester. Your mood worsens and you have the energy of a tree sloth. You start to panic, turning to coffee and energy drinks to keep yourself going, which then make you jittery, irritable and unable to sleep even though you are exhausted. Two months in and you are a stressed out zombie not sure how you are going to survive the semester. You have not even started your microeconomics project, which is worth a third of your grade and due in two days. Your mom calls to tell you she is worried about you, and that your grandmother is in the hospital. The night before two huge exams in the your hardest classes your body finally pulls the plug. You go down hard, mentally fried and sick as a dog. Your best laid plans for managing a challenging first semester in ruins, you consider withdrawing from classes- and the university.
Everything listed above really happened to students I have known. Some even happened to me. The problem starts when we allow our ego- the person we plan or aspire to be- to make our college schedule. The same ego that convinces us to undertake impossible diets and exercise routines that never work has no problem telling us, “Of course you can handle six classes.” But our ego does not have to take the six classes. We do, and our struggle to make good on what the ego sets out for us is not because we are not strong enough or smart enough but because we are human.
John Lennon once said, “Life happens when you are busy making other plans.” When you make your schedule for that first college semester, make sure you allow space for life to happen. Make sure you plan to be human. The ego doesn’t know how to do this, as it is focused on the ends rather than means. It is the part of us that thinks we are robots, that comes up with ultimately self-defeating solutions like, “I just won’t sleep.”
So save yourself a whole lot of stress, misery and failure and scale back your first semester so you have enough space for life to happen. If you are not sure if your semester is setting you up for a pain mortgage, ask a faculty advisor or even another student further along in college to take a look at your schedule. Ask yourself honestly whether you have set up your semester for a robot rather than a real person. If the answer is yes, then your ego is running the show. And just like when the ego gets the best of runners at the starting line of a marathon, you will go out at a pace that you cannot keep, hit the wall, and either slow down drastically or stop altogether. I have seen too many students flame out trying to finish hellacious semesters set up by their egos. You will be much happier, healthier and ultimately do much better in your classes if you don’t allow your ego to make your college schedule.