College undergrad is a place where many people follow this mantra, where they find out who they are, what their passion is, and who their people are. All of this happens so fast that you can barely capture the current moment. I am a third year college student and that scares me. I have all of these expectations of what college is supposed to be and it is half over and now what do I do? Have I done enough? Do I even know where I am going in life? Am I ready to even think about what comes after this magical place called undergrad? Am I prepared enough for the “real world”?
Maybe I should take a step back. Yes, college is one of those periods of your life where there are endless things to do and seemingly not enough time. I entered college with what I have found to be a very common mindset, which I call the “open loop mentality”. For those unfamiliar with an open loop, it is a technical term for something that, because it is programmed to do so, keeps doing the exact same thing without any feedback. Relating it to humans and my mentality, it is the mindset of doing things, often times a lot of things, without critical thought into why you are doing them. We only have so much time in the day, and what we spend our heartbeats on is important. I loved trying new things as a first-year and even as a second-year student: I tried new clubs, I found new hobbies, I even (unsuccessfully) tried to start a club. I loved every single moment of those new, sometimes spontaneous experiences with new people and new places.
During my second year, I was taking a lot of credits, was an officer of one club, actively involved in two more, building an Oreo Soaking Robot, designing playground equipment, working a 20-hour a week job, had friends and roommates that I loved to hang out with, and was attempting to get involved in research on campus. Not too long into the year, I had a breakdown. Then I had another one. Then another. After far too long in this torturous cycle, I had the courage to ask for help. That was hard. It still is hard, and it will never stop being hard. Although in this moment I felt as though I was at my weakest, it was my greatest moment of strength. I felt as vulnerable as could be; I was admitting my faults, sharing them openly, and doing something no one likes to do – admitting I was lost.
Individually, I loved every one of my commitments – collectively though, I was ruining my college experience. I was misinterpreting the quote that I love so much, thinking it was, “Lose yourself in EVERYTHING that you love” and rather than finding myself, I was losing my passion, my drive, and my energy. I was becoming a shell of my true self because I was overcommitting, underperforming, and not able to spend time with the people I loved.
Fortunately, solace came with warmer weather and a much needed break from responsibility – known affectionately as summer. However, this break was also the time I needed to intentionally end my own “open loop mentality”. I was clearly trying to do too much and I really couldn’t fully appreciate any single one of my commitments. It was not worth the breakdowns, the stress, and the endless cycle of not enough sleep and too much to do.
I owned the fact that I needed to change and in order to change, I had to learn from my mistakes and failures. It was apparent that I had to cut back on commitments but that was the first time I realized I didn’t know how to say no. In all honestly, I wasn’t doing anyone any good by saying yes to everything and not being able to put my full heart into anything.
There are some things that I will never say no to: helping a friend in distress, calling home, spontaneous moments with friends. However, there are some things that I do need to say no to: working more hours even though the work is done, trying to make something perfect when “good enough” really is good enough, overcommitting myself to things that I am just not passionate about, and most of all doing things because I am in a made up competition to have the best resume.
Now I do say no. This does not mean that I will stop being busy; it just means that I am finding the purpose in the things I do spend my heartbeats on. This filter and reflection is what ended my “open loop mentality.” Don’t get me wrong, I probably will continue to build robots, and get coffee with friends, and take a lot of credits, and work my 20-hour a week job, and have spontaneous moments, but this time, I am going to keep my capacity in mind, because staying within my capacity keeps me sane, and my mind, body, and friends (even the ones I just said no to) will thank me.
This blog was written by Ethan Brownell, a mechanical engineering junior at the University of Minnesota and is a fan of most things. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.