Don't feel guilty for choosing yourself
I was nearing the end of the winter quarter when the pandemic hit. It was the most stressed I had ever been in my life. I wrapped up finals, packed all my belongings, scavenged for an international flight and managed student visa requirements all in one day. I packed up my whole life and left the rest in storage. I was disoriented and completely exhausted. I felt like shit, looked like shit, most of all didn’t give a shit. I just wanted to get home safely.
My first American spring break turned into the worst possible scenario. Instead of being out with friends abroad, I immediately went into isolation back in Manila. I couldn’t fathom what was happening, and the future seemed so uncertain. Everything was a mess! Nevertheless, I persisted when the spring quarter came around.
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I had taken online classes before so I had a gist of what it would be like. I completely disregarded the fact that this time, I’d have a full load. I was instantly reminded of the reason why I traveled abroad. It’s because I wanted to experience new places, people and things; you can’t get the same satisfaction from virtual college. Those blissful moments with friends and strangers make a huge difference when adulting gets a little rough. Take away your (physical) social life, and it’s just not the same.
I officially hit my breaking point and decided to drop a class. I held it together to finish the rest of the quarter knowing that I wouldn’t want to deal with online school for a while. As much as I didn’t want to “give up,” I knew that I would betray my mental health. I wasn’t going to let that happen. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this hiatus, it’s that your direction is more important than your speed.
Taking a break from college brings in this immediate fear of feeling left behind. There’s a sense of shame for not being able to commit. But taking a break doesn’t mean you’ll be less successful in comparison to those graduating ahead.
You Have a Choice: Adjust or Reroute
Halfway through the quarter, my blunt business professor shared something with our class that pretty much drove me into making my final decision. Based on today’s economic status and low employment rates, the need to graduate on time isn’t necessary. He said, “You have a choice: adjust or reroute. There’s no wrong answer.”
As simple as that statement was, it woke me up from my herd mentality. Instead of feeling weak for not following the crowd, I decided to recognize the strength of going against the current. I realized that I don’t have to force myself to follow what everyone else is doing. Between adjusting or taking a break, I bravely chose the latter. I can gladly say that I don’t regret that decision one bit.
Recover From Burnout
A heavy workload is something I can cope with but combine it with a different time zone, slow Wi-Fi and uncooperative group mates—you have a recipe for disaster.
My routine became robotic, it revolved solely around work. I felt so guilty about taking breaks because I knew I would reap the cost. All I wanted was to find solace in old hobbies to ease my mind when it came to bad news and the pressure of succeeding online. Allowing myself to live day by day with ease was like food for the soul.
I can't be the best version of myself if I don't listen to what my body needs. If it needs a break, so be it. Sure, my graduation date may be pushed back, but the fact of the matter is…I'm still going to graduate. School is something I can always return to. And when I do, I'll have more work experience coupled with a fresh perspective.
Take an Internship
After days of doing every possible indoor hobby, I decided to intern. Instead of cramming internships with my studies, this break has given me the advantage of taking baby steps towards my career. I still have a long way to go and a whole lot of growing to do, but one step forward is better than none at all.
Fortunately, I found a workplace that values authenticity and respects mental health. My time with Wonder so far has encouraged me to openly discuss personal topics and to not be afraid of making mistakes because that's the only way to grow. If I want to be in a better position in the future, I have to expose myself to what's “scary.”
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This year has taught me many things, but one thing stands out the most, and that’s not to neglect myself. Choosing a different path despite what everyone else is doing does not mean that I’m heading the wrong way. There is no wrong path. We are heading towards the same goal. I just prefer to do it at my own pace. The whole world has slowed down. There is no shame in slowing down, too.
Words Marga Sibug
Art Alexandra Lara