Oh sweetie, I know. I know. I see it in your social media posts. I feel it in your emoji-less texts. I hear it in your voice on the rare occasions we talk on the phone (no, that wasn’t a guilt trip). I read it in the list of things you messaged that you left behind when you were home for the weekend: “1. My dark-wash jeans. 2. My black blazer. 3. Motivation.”
I get it. You are done. DONE. You are over this semester, over your work load, over course syllabi, over writing papers, over reading chapters, over Gen Ed classes that seem to have nothing to do with what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Except that the semester isn’t quite over and so you can’t quite be done. Well, of course, you can be. But you don’t really want to be.
I’m not going to tell you to “hang in there,” because I already know you’re hanging by one of the threads of that hoodie we bought you at the bookstore when we were on campus for your first tour.
I’ll tell you these ten things instead, based on my own burn-out days in college (and since).
What to tell college students who are burned out
1.Keep your eye on what you really want.
I know you want to be done, but what you really want is to be done and to be satisfied and content. You want to feel like you haven’t quit, but completed. You want to know that what you did to advance your long-term goals. You won’t feel these things if you give up now, when you’re so close to this particular finish line. So sprint across it (or at least hobble), and then rest in the satisfaction of knowing you ran the whole race.
2. Look back.
Look at all you’ve already accomplished. Look at all the work you’ve already done. Look at all the times you fought yourself to do what you didn’t want to do. Don’t cancel all that out by giving up now. You might not be able to completely control the outcome of this semester, but you can still control your input.
3. Look forward.
While you’re staring down these last few weeks, let your mental gaze drift once in a while to all the things you’re looking forward to doing (or not doing) when you get a break. And while you’re at it, keep your sights on the even bigger picture: the job you might land someday, the work you might do, the career you might build, the life you might have. Right now, day by day and piece by piece, you’re making a future dream come true.
4. Take a walk.
Or a nap. Or a shower. Or a yoga class. Your body feeds your brain, so feed your body some rest or fresh air or a breather, and your brain will probably be a lot more supportive and a lot less likely to tell you, “Oh, what’s the point? Just quit!”
Of course I want you to do your best. Of course I want you to aim for the highest goal that doesn’t come at the sacrifice of everything else that matters. But at this stage of the game, not everything comes down to either zero percent or 100 percent. If you don’t feel like you can give it your all, that doesn’t mean you should give it your nothing. Go ahead and give it your some. Take good enough where you can get it.
6. Just do one thing.
I know a long list stands between you and doing what you want to do for a change, but you can’t tackle five things at once and accomplish any of them very well. So make your long list, then figure out what one thing you can do next with the time, energy, and other resources you’ve got at the moment. Maybe it’s the easiest thing. Or maybe it’s the thing you’re dreading most. Whatever it is, do it well and then enjoy the satisfaction of being done.
7. Mix some “want to” in with your “have to.”
A little anticipated reward can be a powerful motivator (how else do you think we potty trained you?), so promise yourself that when you’re done eking out another paper or plowing through ONE MORE reading assignment, you can take a little break and go online shopping for your Christmas list (Grandma’s been asking for it) or watch Netflix with your friends or get one of those smoothies you’re so crazy about.
8. I know you can do this.
I know you can keep going. I know you can finish strong. I know you can choose not to give up. Whether or not you do, it is entirely up to you, but I have every confidence that you are able to do it.
9. I’m already proud of you.
How I feel about you is not hanging in the balance here. I’m proud of who you are and what you’ve already done. The reason I don’t want you to quit has nothing to do with what I want from you and everything to do with what I want for you.
10. I love you.
It might not help much with the challenge at hand, but no list from mom or dad feels complete without this very true reminder. I love you. Always have. Always will.
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