Well-Being//

High Expectations and Burnout

Sharing a bit of my first-year experience in university.

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First year of university, first term, I was ready for a new start. My driven, ambitious self was determined to stay organized, do well in all my classes, join clubs, and meet new people. I worked tirelessly through my courses, rarely going out, and attending every networking event I could. 

Oftentimes, my friends would praise me being on top of all my classes and asked me how I did it. Honestly, I studied and worked until 2 AM everyday while my peers went out with their friends. I thought to myself that it would all be worth it in the end, but by the end of first semester, I felt severely burnt out and unmotivated. 

I was unsatisfied with everything I had accomplished because I felt like it wasn’t enough. A lot of the dissatisfaction also came from comparing myself to others. I set a lot of goals for myself throughout the year and seeing other people achieve them (while I am happy for them) before I could made me resent myself. I worked so hard in all my courses, did my best in everything else, and still didn’t accomplish my goals. 

Now I get that if I wasn’t trying my best in everything, that I wouldn’t succeed. Of course, success comes to those who work for it. But I was working hard, my grades were good and I was very committed to my extracurriculars. However, I just wasn’t attaining the same success as everyone else and that was what frustrated me the most. Maybe I worked too hard and expected too much from myself?

Fast forward to summer, I’ve learned to accept things the way they are. I spent a lot of time self-reflecting and came to the conclusion that I focused too much on my goals, which were very unrealistic. While my drive to achieve them was admirable, it came at a cost of over-working myself, sleep deprivation, and losing contact with friends and family. It just wasn’t worth it in the end. 

As school begins again, the last thing I want is to go through what I had gone through in first-year all over again. To combat burnout and low self-esteem, I found that all I had to do was be more realistic. 

Be realistic about your goals.

No one knows you better than you do! You can’t assign yourself one week’s worth of work to do in day, and you can’t fly to the moon in 24 hours. Again, it’s not bad to be ambitious, but be realistic in terms of what you’re capable of, what your other priorities are, and what opportunities are out there.

Test your limits and don’t set artificial boundaries for yourself.

By setting more attainable goals, the chances of accomplishing them is greater, and the chances of not and resenting yourself later is far less. Think about it, nothing is more dissatisfying and demotivating than not achieving something you put your mind on. Take the first step towards success by defining a set of goals that are both challenging and obtainable.

Be realistic about deadlines, daily tasks, and breaks.

I’ve made it a habit to make a to-do list of everything I have to accomplish for the day based on what deadlines and exams I have coming up. When I look back at my first-year planner, all I see is work, work, work, but what about a break? How long should it be? What about catching up with friends after hours of studying?

I found that my mind was so focused on completing tasks and studying early, that I would forget about scheduling breaks to spend time on myself. I neglected taking moments to relax because I thought I wouldn’t have time for it. Thinking about it now, I definitely could have spent a couple hours each week to hang with friends or practice self-care, but at the time, checking things off my to-do list was all that consumed my mind. 

Whilst studying, you can always fit in a break each week to unwind and have fun. Maybe you make it a routine on Fridays to eat out with friends; whatever it is, make sure spend about three hours doing it. In between work and study sessions, try to fit in a five minute break as well to refresh your mind. I like using Flipd so I know when it’s time to take each small break.

Again, be reasonable about what you assign yourself to do each day. I find it helpful to plan out my whole week in advance as it makes it easier for me to see exactly how I will complete X assignment and study for Y exams. This also ensures that I don’t finish something too early or last minute.


I sincerely hope this helps any student out there, whether you’re a first-year university student or senior high school student applying to post-secondary education. School is a stressful time for everyone; challenge yourself but also make sure you take time to relax and reduce the academic strain. 

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