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Cs get degrees, but what do you really want from university?

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

Hello everyone! I hope you are all well. Final exams are here, and feelings of anxiety and pressure have come with them.

In my blog a couple of weeks ago, I talked about juggling plastic balls and glass balls. The plastic balls are okay to drop, but the glass balls shatter. Currently, many of the balls that I am juggling are made of glass: shifts at work, studying for final exams, and meetings for final projects. I cannot afford to drop any in this crucial time. That, in itself, is complicated. The pressure I feel right now is astounding, and I’m not sure how to know when to stop studying and pushing myself.

I am still getting used to the new work routine I talked briefly about in last week’s blog (here). I’m trying to stay on one task for a good amount of time rather than randomly switching between tasks. It has been working well, but I still have to drastically improve my level of focus for each task. I want to take things slow and focus on…well, focus on focussing. I am hoping by the new year that my work ethic will have changed (and that a Covid vaccine is available to the public!). In a sense, this makes my work schedule more minimal: finishing one task, one at a time, seems a lot neater than working on one task for 15 minutes than switching to another for another 5, then another, and another, and another.

My 2021 resolution is to live more minimally. For me, personally, this means cleaning my room to be neat, getting rid of anything I do not need, finding a “minimal” schedule, and just creating a space where I am not distracted. This will help with my studies.

Dealing with notes is one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to studying with a minimalistic mindset. School notes are something I keep forever. I cannot bear to dispose of them. Every time a new course begins, I am always conflicted as to where to start writing notes, and how to organize them. Of course, I have my basic binders and ringed notebooks, but I would like something nicer and prettier. An efficient method to organize notes so they are easy to refer to would help! I recognize that this is not usually something that people are stressed over, but to me, having attractive and organized notes would help me feel a bit more accomplished and secure. With exams coming, this organizational problem will have to wait until I have more time on my hands. Either way, I am looking forward to finally finding an organizational method—I’ll come back to this in January!

One thing I really wanted to include in this blog is something that I’ve been dealing with for the last few weeks. I want to know if you guys had any thoughts or input on this: how do you stay motivated and deal with stress and setbacks without big goals like you had in high school? In the blogs that I have already written, I have mentioned the ups and downs of university, and the distress I feel when receiving unsatisfactory marks. I really do try my best, but I’ve sometimes received disappointing scores, for example for my physics midterm and engineering practice assignments.

A big challenge right now is finding the line between being hard on myself to improve and taking care of my mental health. When I think back to myself as a high school student, I realize I was extremely tough on myself. I felt certain I had to get good grades to enter a good university and to try for some scholarships. Although my mental health was not necessarily bad, it seems like compared to now, I felt more pressure in high school to excel. That pressure helped me a lot in terms of studying, but I also became more upset at receiving low grades. Now, as I’ve discussed in my blog posts, I seem to move on from setbacks a bit quicker.

This line that I have been trying to draw, the line between pressuring myself and taking care of myself, has been on my mind for weeks. In high school, there was a clear goal in mind: get high grades so I can have lots of university choices. I knew where high school grades came from: doing well on the exam, and mastering skills.

Now, I do not know what I want to do after university. Without a big goal, I find it much harder to set expectations for myself. We have all heard the phrase “Cs get degrees,” but what do I want after a degree, and what do I have to achieve to get it? I’ll sort this out one day. I promise you and I promise myself. But, alas, finals exams are the focus right now. Once I figure out where I’m going in the future, which may be weeks or months from now, I will let you know, and hopefully I will find the place to draw the line: I’ll know when I’ve done enough work and when I can stop. Right now, I will continue to do the best as I can with the support of friends, TAs, and club members.

Moving on from that small existential crisis, I paid my first monthly rent for a house in Kingston!! I will be moving in next year and I am ecstatic. I will finally experience campus life (with the hopes that COVID-19 will quietly go away) and see all the friends I have made along the way. I will finally live the first-year experience that we have always dreamed about, just a year later.

This blog has been a wild ride; I shared my problems but unfortunately offered no solutions. That is life, it seems. Let’s not worry too much about it, haha. Thank you for joining me and good luck on your exams! Happy holidays, and see you in the new year!