During my two years in uni, I have felt like time has flown by. Actually, that is probably applicable to the majority of my life, and I am sure it is a feeling familiar to anyone reading this. For quite a while now, however, this feeling has been accompanied by an anxiety-driven voice, quietly creeping in, telling me that I won’t ever get the same opportunities again, that I therefore need to make the most out of everything I do, that I am running out of time. Now that I am spelling those thoughts out, it sounds a bit more morbid than it feels on a day-to-day basis. It usually just translates to difficulty making decisions, subconscious sense of time shortage, and therefore stress and anxiety. And in that aspect, COVID really did not help. Having first year of university disrupted by the pandemic resulted in a reordering of priorities, and I have found myself struggling to say No even more than before, turning into somewhat of a compulsive ‘Making-the-most-out-of-everything-ist’.
I know how it sounds: Isn't it a good thing to say yes to things that you have never tried before? Isn’t uni exactly about making the most of the experience? Well… yes…? However, personally, my positive mindset is easily poisoned by the pressure I put on myself. You can’t really seize the day when the day passes you by because you're stuck in your head, worrying about how to make the most out of all your experiences, right?
To a degree, this thinking has affected my experience of the Laidlaw scholarship program at the University of St Andrews this summer. Being in St Andrews and getting to know my fellow scholars better has been lovely, and the guest speakers I got to listen to have been incredibly interesting and inspiring. I feel very lucky to have been able to spend part of my summer in St Andrews, and participate in a program that was less impacted by the constraints of the pandemic. However, I did also spend a few weeks travelling, resulting in me missing parts of the Laidlaw summer program, triggering my (oh no) FOMO. I started worrying if I missed out on crucial time to bond with my cohort, if the talks I missed were crucial sources of inspiration that I now lacked, if I was falling behind with my research. At the same time, I felt like I needed to use every opportunity the Laidlaw scholarship offered me beyond the summer program in St Andrews. That means reaching out to you: my fellow scholars, reading all the articles and emails being sent my way, connecting with alumni, attending webinars - the list could go on forever, and the breadth of opportunities the scholarship offers is part of what makes it so great.
When I came back from my travels, everyone seemed pretty chill, organised, and on track with their research. I am not special in being busy - so how does everyone else do it? Am I the only one feeling this way?
Since I’ve been struggling with these worries for a while now, I have fortunately found some things that have helped relieve the anxiety caused by this toxic Carpe Diem-mindset. While this is a reflection on my experiences as a Laidlaw scholar, the advice given here is definitely applicable to a range of different contexts, and I hope I can give some helpful food for thought for anyone who might be experiencing similar worries.
1. You are not the only one struggling.
Through talks with fellow scholars, including during the Action Learning Sets, I have found that I am not the only one with these worries. On the surface, it seems like everyone has their sh*t together all the time. At Stanford, this is referred to as the Duck Syndrome: students struggle to keep up with the pressure of a competitive academic environment, but keep up the front of being relaxed and on top of their work - like a duck seemingly floating very relaxed on the water surface, when in reality paddling frantically underwater. I am not sure what prompts the need to keep up this front, but have found that if you are the first one to open up about your struggles to others, more likely than not, you will find someone who relates.
2. Question your worries.
As someone who thinks they think too much, I found it important to catch myself in making unhelpful assumptions, catastrophizing, and ruminating.
Many of my worries stem from assumptions and exaggerations I subconsciously make in my head. Why do I assume that all the other scholars have grown close in the time I was gone. Do I know for a fact that ‘everyone’ will be miles ahead in their research? Why am I comparing myself in the first place? These thoughts are not based on facts, but they have a lot of power over me. Recognising that it’s happening often helps me already. Although it is a fine line to walk in between recognising your unhelpful thoughts, and over-analyzing your behaviour.
3. Practice Gratitude and Journal
Sometimes I get so caught up in my worries that I can’t remember what I did during the day. It sounds very cliché but I do think it’s helpful to reflect and write down what I did, and what I am grateful for. It also helps for looking back and seeing your progress, in addition to aiding your memory.
4. There is enough time, it is not too late.
This one!!! This is the one I need to drill into my head the most. I don’t know when I planted the idea into my head that I do not have enough time. Yes, my six week of research and summer program are over. But I can still reach out to scholars after summer ends. I’m sure the articles on the scholars’ network are not running away from me. And most importantly, there will be more opportunities in the future.
So, let me tell you: If you can’t make the most of it, that’s fine. If you don’t want to make the most out of it… well, that’s fine too. Who am I to tell you, anyway? The words that I am writing would probably be best addressed to myself, but alas I still struggle to follow my own advice. But maybe this can be a bit of reassurance to you, the reader, that you’re doing okay.
Lastly, if this is something that you have struggled with in the past, or are still struggling with, please feel free to comment under this post. I would love to hear your insights and opinions!