I decided that I wanted to bullet journal the summer before my sophomore year. I struggled with finding the perfect planner because the planners sold in my local stores had the wrong size, amount of space, or price tag. Instead of looking high and low for the evasive "perfect planner" (with a college-affordable price tag), why not construct my own planner for scratch, tailored for my own needs? I ordered a $10 bullet journal in my favorite color, bought a pack of gel pens, and spent my summer days in anticipation. My organized life would finally begin.
When I started bullet journaling my fall semester, I quickly realized that maintaining a bullet journal was all-consuming. As expected, I had to create everything - from weekly spreads, to calendar pages and budgets - from scratch. So even though I spent a good chunk of my Sunday evenings curating the perfect spread for the following week, I always felt stressed because I had yet to draw pages I needed. As a perfectionist, my time commitment to my bullet journal only heightened. I wanted to create spreads that looked like they could have walked right off of a Pinterest feed, so I spent hours squiggling sunflowers and pencilling polar bears next to each new spread. My time commitment to my bullet journal countered my lack of time as a college student, and many weeks I either neglected my homework for my bullet journal, or felt overwhelmed because my journal was not at the standards that I wanted it to be.
Even though other people in my life had warned me about its time commitment, I never expected that maintaining a bullet journal would also consume my identity. I quickly became proud of my aesthetically-pleasing journal pages, showing them off to friends and family, and posting cute pictures of them on my Instagram story. I chased the happiness and fulfillment that I found when others complimented my journal. Bullet journaling, I concluded, was the only avenue that I could both be on top of life and live as a creative soul. I likewise prided myself on how pretty my journal was despite my lack of drawing ability. I may have missed the A in my high school art class - but dang, I certainly could draw a pretty budget spread.
On the flip-side, I also allowed my mistakes in bullet journaling to define who I was. When I spent too much time on my journal instead of studying, or when my spread did not turn out the way I wanted it to, I told myself that I was a failure without hopes of improvement. When I felt overwhelmed about maintaining my bullet journal along with a busy college schedule, I reproached myself that I should be able to better balance my responsibilities. Even though I had a toxic correlation between my art and my self-image, I did not want to leave the bullet journaling practice because it fulfilled so many others who I respected and admired. If I were to disagree with them, wouldn't there be something wrong with me?
I stopped bullet journaling the next semester because I acknowledged that it was no longer the best use of my (very limited) free time. Instead of creating my own planner, I now use one from Hobby Lobby that has more than enough space to write down all my commitments and responsibilities. I would be lying if I said I didn't miss my bullet journaling practice a little. I felt that creating my own calendars made me feel in control of my overwhelming circumstances. Bullet journaling helped me put my life into order, and also brought me joy and pride. Yet I know that my decision to switch over to a ready-made planner was best for me. I no longer stress about creating space for my to-do lists, meaning that I have more time to spend checking items off. I also no longer allow my planner's successes and failures define how I see myself. When other people compliment my planner, I no longer take any credit - and maybe that is the healthiest place for me to be at the moment. Instead, I can focus on where my identity truly lies, such as in my Christian faith and in the way that I myself treat other people and engage with what matters to me. While I'm sad that I now only bullet journal on occasion, my roommate encourages me that I am not leaving my passion behind: I am simply deciding against it for this season. Maybe I'll return to bullet journaling during a less-hectic season of life and revisit it as a creative way to express myself and to organize my unique and wonderful life.