By FAITH PONTI
I’m floating through that messy, chaotic mid-semester lull, and I don’t quite feel like a human as much as I feel like a robot that is mass-producing mediocre essays and half-finished assignments. It’s that spring-semester-hump most of us are familiar with; all the assignments and projects that seemed a safe distance away are looming on the horizon, you’re running out of pens (where the hell do they all go?) and you’re averaging six hours of sleep a night and four cups of coffee a day. You’ve stopped wearing real clothes to class, you can’t find your hairbrush so you’re attempting to rock the same baseball cap everyday, none of your socks match and you tend to eat a balanced meal of Cheetos and celery sticks for most of your lunches. You feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, not enough days in the week and not enough weeks left to get everything done that needs to get done by the end of the semester. You’ve got a massive hill to climb, and all you can think to yourself is, “why can’t Ds get degrees?”
There are times when passing your classes seems impossible. You’re thinking that there’s no way you’ll be able to complete every project or study for every exam, and eventually, you start beating yourself up for taking too many naps or for not having three brains and eight arms with which to get everything done. You get down on yourself for being confused during lectures or turning in a few assignments late. You start wondering whether or not you’re smart enough to actually attain your degree, and begin considering alternative career paths (magic school, anyone?) I have absolutely felt that way every single year of my collegiate career; however, I have successfully survived seven semesters of midterm panic, with each one becoming easier and easier to manage due to one gem of a lesson that I’ve learned and polished each semester. It’s not how to create the perfect flash card or how to read at lightning speed. In reality, it’s something that doesn’t have to do with academics at all.
It’s self-compassion. Even though I’ve learned better study tactics and time management skills throughout the years, the ability to be kind and to go easy on myself has been my saving grace. At some point during college, I stopped viewing my inability to be the perfect student as a fundamental flaw in my makeup, and instead recognized my imperfections as inherently and beautifully human. I started realizing that taking four or five classes while working part-time is not easy, and I was obviously going to struggle through some things. Of course I was going to miss a lecture or two to finish a paper for a different class. Of course I was going to forget to write something down in my planner and miss a small assignment. And of course I wasn’t going to get a perfect score on every exam. I’d been holding myself to a truly impossible standard.
So, if I got a less than perfect score on an exam, I started congratulating myself for doing the best I could do given the time constraints. If my head started to hurt from staring at a computer screen for too long, I started letting myself take tea breaks. And if I didn’t do something perfectly the first time around, I started trying to learn from my mistakes instead of beating myself up for making them in the first place. I started recognizing myself as a human, instead of a student, first.
And god, did that do wonders. The panic attacks decreased as my tea intake increased. I started giving myself grace and forgiving myself for being a human. When I take a class now, I consider it a success if I leave the class having actually learned what I was supposed to learn. Some of the most impactful classes I’ve taken didn’t translate to A’s on my transcript, and for some of the classes I got A’s in, I can’t tell you one thing I learned. You can leave college a fully competent, experienced individual even if your GPA isn’t squeaky clean. You deserve to be here, even when you feel like you’re drowning. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to be confused. Just take a lot of deep breaths, and do your best. Get enough sleep when you can, but when you can’t, try to love yourself a little extra the next day. Treat yourself after working hard. Forgive yourself after messing up. Show yourself the kind of compassion you would show your best friend. You’re a student, but you’re a human first. Remember that during the next couple of weeks. Spring break is right around the corner; you can do it, you magical human.
Faith Ponti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.