"It is the hard days--the times that challenge you to your very core--that will determine who you are. We are more vulnerable than we ever thought but we are stronger than we ever imagined... When the challenges come, I hope you remember deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You aren't born with a fixed amount of resilience; it's a muscle. You can build it up and draw upon it when you need it and you may just become the very best version of yourself." - Sheryl Sandberg at UC Berkeley's Commencement Address
It's been two weeks since my sophomore year of college (at the University of Pennsylvania) ended. Yes, I'm now at the halfway mark of college and it's been a crazy 2 years so far. Having just gone through the hardest semester of my college career so far, I'm still trying to figure out why I drove myself so hard this past semester and took on so many things that I just burned out.
In between taking a lot of hard classes (with a 7 class course load), taking on new commitments and trying to still work on my entrepreneurial ventures, I simply started drowning in so much work that each day became such a struggle to even get through. But life goes on. The semester eventually ended and while it may not have been a good semester, I learned A LOT.
I'm sharing this in hopes that some freshman or pre-college student out there is able to learn from my mistakes. Or that this article helps others think about their semester and put things into perspective because there's always a silver lining in what we go through.
But these hard times are the ones that teach you the most.
1. You can't do everything
There's so much pressure in college to conform to the norms and to follow what everyone else is doing while still being yourself. We're always trying to balance all aspects of our life while always trying to do more. But the reality is that we really can't do everything. Something is going to eventually give and we'll start sacrificing the things we actually care about. You have a choice. Pick your spots.
2. Work on your weaknesses but don't forget about your strengths
This semester I tried so hard to work on my weaknesses like learning how to code, trying to get better with numbers and data, spending more time with studying that I forgot about my strengths. I started feeling really miserable as I cranked out problem set after problem set.
This is when I realized that while you should be working on your weaknesses, you should not forget to continue doing what you're good at. I had stopped writing. I had stopped going to entrepreneurship events. I had stopped working on YouthHack. I wasn't having fun anymore because everything I was doing were things I wasn't good at. Eventually, I couldn't even study properly anymore. Don't do this to yourself.
Like Marissa Mayer said, "Burnout isn't caused by overworking. It's caused by forgetting to spend time doing what you love."
3. It's okay to feel like an impostor or a fraud, most people also feel like one
When things aren't going so well, it's very easy to feel like an impostor. It's very easy to start doubting ourselves, and start asking why we even belong. For me, this started when I started having a hard time balancing all my commitments that I started doing poorly in all of them. As a result, I felt as if I just wasn't good enough in anything. However, don't take yourself too seriously. Realize that everyone is good at something and at the same time, everyone also doesn't really know what they're doing in college. Relax. You aren't alone.
4. It's okay to be vulnerable, to admit that you're having a hard time
I've made some of my best friends by admitting that I'm not superman. It's okay to admit that you're feeling sad. We don't always have to reply to our friends when they ask us, 'How are you?' with a big smile and 'I'm good' even though we're not good. It's okay to open up. This is the only way people will know that you're struggling.
5. Lose yourself in new adventures, but don't forget where you came from and what makes you feel alive
I ended up trying a bunch of new things this semester, but as a result, I ran out of time to do things that I actually cared about. Always leave time for the things that make you feel alive. Never forget about these passions of yours, these hobbies, these things that give you a purpose. It's important to know what activity, what organization and what community makes you feel alive, because this is what you have to go back to during the times you feel burned out.
6. Never take your friends for granted
It was this semester where I realized how much I love my friends. Without my friends, I actually wouldn't have survived this semester. I'm extremely thankful to all the people who picked me up when I was down, when I didn't know what to do and when I was about to give up. These are the friends who are for keeps, those ones who are there during both the good times and bad. It sounds so cliché but it's during these hard moments when you realize who your true friends truly are. Thanks guys.
7. It's okay not to know
To the college student out there trying to figure things out, don't worry; you are not alone. Two years into college, and I still have no idea what exactly I'm going to major in. I have a better idea of what I don't want to do but at the same time, I'm less sure about what exactly I want to do. I try planning out my next two years only to end up back in square one every single time. There's just way too many factors in life that it's too hard to plan everything out. Uncertainty sucks but that's what makes life so exciting, that's what makes tomorrow a mystery.
8. Life goes on (but there are exceptions when it comes to cheeseballs)
At the end of the day, while life kinda sucked this past semester, the world didn't stop, life went on. Remember that despite all the hardships, all the moments that make life seem so dark, there's always something to be thankful for. There's no point in dwelling upon these negatives. Learn from them and move on.
While I could live regretting going through a slump and feeling depressed this past semester, I am a strong believer in that everything happens for a reason, and that these moments of hardship happen to us to teach us powerful lessons.
This past semester was harder than any other semester I've had. But in between all the all-nighters I pulled and all the days where I felt like a fake, were days where I made my best friends and days where I realized how much I miss doing what I love.
I can't wait to see where these next two years of college take me.
---About the Author---
David Ongchoco is a student entrepreneur and avid storyteller from the Philippines studying at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in what he likes to call, LIFE. He is currently working on expanding his for-purpose organization YouthHack. It's David's goal to make an impact in the lives of as many people possible while constantly learning new things every single day. If you have any interesting startup stories, David can be reached via Twitter @DOitChoco.