Mind your mind: There’s no definition to being a ‘good university student’

Holy shit, it’s already November and we’re in the last stretch of Term 1.

I see all of your tired, overworked faces when I trudge my way through campus — and that plus my conversations at work prompted me to write this week’s piece. This time, I’m focusing on a topic I’m sure you’re all familiar with: the modern idea of being “busy.”

There’s a fine line between a lot of things. For example, there’s a fine line between being arrogant and being confident. Between being self-absorbed and being self-attentive. Between being a solid 10/10 drunk and being utterly shit-faced (I’m not sure if knowing this last one is a good thing). There’s a dangerous, precarious line between being busy to convince yourself you’re fulfilling societal expectations and being productively busy towards the goals you want to fulfill.

If you are working yourself to the bone for the latter, I tip my imaginary writing cap off to you. But if you aren’t sure why you’re taking five classes while working 30-40 hours a week, and heaven forbid, maintaining a social life, volunteering, running a club — stop for a minute. Are you doing this because you have a genuine drive or are you just feeling pressured to keep up with the people around you?

Are you doing this because you feel like this is what being a “good” university student means?

To be frank, the expectations for the typical post-secondary student has somehow centred around the idea of maintaining a full schedule and an unnecessarily high stress level — there’s this idea that if you’re not stressed out and overworked, you’re lazy and unambitious.

Being busy isn’t a bad thing but if it is, at the end of the day, you’ll feel like you haven’t been productive at all. You’ll feel like you’re just filling your daily allotted 24 hours with work so you can convince yourself you’re getting somewhere in your life — or that you’re on the same level as the people you see who seem to be moving forward.

First things first: everyone moves at different paces.

Some people are suited for a fast-paced, workaholic lifestyle. Others progress more slowly, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t just as surely. All of this is okay, because you have to remember that other people’s successes and failures have no reflection on who you are as an individual.

You most likely have heard these words or something similar many times before, but let me remind you here and now: your progress and productivity is defined by the choices you make every hour of every day and it is okay to do things at your own pace based on what you need and are able to do.

Secondly, you are wasting your time — and energy — if you’re taking on too many tasks merely to prove a point.

Remember that you are trying to work towards your own success, no matter what that looks like and not someone else’s version of it. If you don’t need to work 40 hours a week, don’t. Spend that time elsewhere based on what you think you need to be doing to get yourself closer to your goal. If you don’t need to be frequenting mindless social events, don’t. If you don’t need to take six classes a semester, don’t.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t challenge yourself, but there’s little gain in pushing yourself past your limits to the point of breaking. You can still work towards your future without entirely sacrificing your wellbeing. If you are wholly convinced that this is the way to go, then be prepared to face the consequences.

Lastly, don’t feel guilty if you feel like you’re not doing as much as others.

Most likely, you don’t even have the full picture of their lives — social media is a LIE, so don’t buy into it! — and it’s not a bad thing to work slowly while you’re figuring things out.

Maybe you aren’t sure what you want to study yet. Maybe you feel like you’re in the wrong academic field. Maybe you aren’t sure you should be in university to begin with. I know it’s easy to compare yourself to your friends and peers, to the people who look like they’re making a direct beeline to success.

I’m guilty of this at times, myself. But really, you’re wasting your energy, because comparing yourself is not going to get you a better life. It won’t bring you the success you dream of, but trusting your instincts, making smart decisions and putting in hard work will.

The conventional idea of a “good” university student — someone who has a full course load and is working, volunteering and simultaneously doing other impossible things on the side — does not apply to every person. Success is not merely a flawless resume, but can be defined differently from person to person.

Do what your own goals and dreams ask you to do and take into consideration how far your limits stretch. Ask yourself how far you’re willing to push past them, because at the core of it all, success begins with you. Your dreams can’t become reality if you are not emotionally, mentally or physically prepared to work for it and are focusing your energy on convincing the rest of society you are good enough.

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency call 911.