As I've talked to friends and classmates, I've noticed a recurring theme: people are stressed. Duh, right? We have tests! We have homework! Some people have jobs, or clubs, or obligations, and we want to have time for friends on top of all of that! It's impossible to balance everything, and memorize everything you need to for class, and get all of your homework done and, and, and....stop. Hold on a second and breathe. Sadly, the theme of this semester seems to be surviving instead of thriving, and everyone is out of focus and over-tired. Comprehension in classes seems low, and patience is wearing thin, and we're still working ourselves to the bone. But I'm going to tell you something I found very comforting as I was lamenting this: you are not alone. College is hard. Adulting is hard. We have everything in the world to do and not enough time, and to what end?
I ran into someone I hadn't seen in a while the other day, and as we were catching up and doing the mandatory complaining about classes, he said something that stuck with me; something along the lines of "I don't have that much to do, but I'm always doing something." It bothered me for some reason, mainly because I felt very called out, and it made a little too much sense. I fancy myself a busy and even productive person. But what was I accomplishing? I certainly haven't been working to my full potential and it's frustrating. I'm tired, and struggling to remember things and keep up with academics, and I'm feeling more and more helpless and hopeless and the feeling seems mutual. Cool we acknowledged it. So now what?
Throughout this past week I've done some thinking (a dangerous thing I know). It helped me to a realization. In spite of any mental health struggles or a simple lack of focus, I am not as stupid as I think I am. And neither are you. Ready for another obvious truth? School is not supposed to be easy. It's not because they are weeding us out, sorting the strong from the weak, or waiting to watch us fail. School is not here to defeat us. It's because we don't know everything yet. We don't have the knowledge, so we may struggle. We may have no earthly idea what is going on, and that is a feeling I know all too well. It's been terrifying! It is so easy to become discouraged and even question your abilities. But just because you don't know it yet doesn't mean you never will. You just don't know it right now.
Then I talked to a friend who shared an article by Martin A. Schwartz titled "The importance of stupidity in scientific research". It may be research specific, but the underlying message applies no matter what you're trying to do with your life. Long story short, you are not supposed to have all the answers. Your mentors or professors may not even have all the answers. The whole point is that you learn, and grow, and if you can take your stupidity and use it to keep asking questions, you're on the right track! Because really, it isn't stupidity, it's curiosity! There is so much in the world we don't know, and with a lot, we don't know that we don't know it. Just think on that one for a sec. You don't come into the world able to walk, ride a bike, drive, or even able to eat solid food. Education is much the same. You don't immediately know how to write papers, or answer math questions, or understand philosophy and so on. It takes someone showing you the basics, then you practice, and then you can do original things.
My biomedical ethics professor says something very regularly; it bothered me the first time, but then it made sense. "If you don't have any questions, you don't actually understand the material." What he was saying is, the concepts, the topics, they are not simple. It's hard! We aren't going to understand right away. We need to know the basics and then try to delve more in depth. We need to clarify things, and make sure we are connecting the correct dots. If you aren't asking questions, you are not progressing. Keep gathering information. Explore. It is not about getting every single answer correct, it is about finding something you're passionate about and digging further. Once you answer some questions, you should be able to then ask more.
I'm going to say it again for the people in the back. You. Do. Not. Know. Everything. Not on one specific subject, or in a field, or in the world. You can't explain everything, and that's ok. If you don't know how to do something, learn. If you have questions, you may find guidance or help, but there's a lot you have to figure out yourself. There's a lot of trial and error in simply existing, let alone in progressing. So please learn a lesson now that I am still trying to absorb: be patient with yourself. As long as progress is being made, you are being plenty productive. Absorb as much as you can, but don't force it. Learn how to help yourself focus, rather than beat yourself up when you can't. Then see what you can do, and you may even find you exceed even your own expectations.
Remember to breathe, you guys.