Hi friends! Today's blog post is a guest post from an incredible friend of mine, about tips and advice for handling life's crises in the midst of being a student. I hope you'll give it a read and comment below if it touched you like it did me! -Sara
When I was in high school, I maintained a 4.1 GPA, was the captain of my school’s sailing team, held a leadership role my school’s Anti-Defamation league. I did it all while dealing with a father who had mental illness issues that brought chaos and complications into my life. I was always afraid that I wasn’t a successful student because I didn’t have the calm, clean life that my peers had. In junior year, other students’ fathers quizzed them on AP US history terms while mine spent both Christmas and New Years’ in a mental health hospital. I still don’t know how I managed to pull off my ultimate success, but it didn’t always feel like success.
Many students face struggles during their academic careers- learning disabilities, mental health problems, low motivation, etc. No matter how large or small the challenges are you face in your academic career, I’ve learned some tricks about coming out of them with only a few scrapes to show that I want to share with you.
1) Above all, be gentle and kind to yourself.
Don’t expect more of yourself than you can honestly give. I learned that I couldn’t write an eight page essay in the four hours after seeing my father or going to therapy. Also, don’t skimp on your sleep. Trying to pull an all-nighter is never a good idea; it’s an even worse one when you’re already emotionally weary. I’ve found that the person who expects the most of me is me. Toning down the demands you make of yourself can be a good thing.
2) Don’t be afraid of letting your guidance counselor/dean, teachers/professors, and friends know what is going on with you if you are facing serious challenges.
At first I was afraid to let people at school know about the problems I was having at home. That only made things worse when I needed extra time to finish assignments. I was afraid that my teachers would think differently of me, when they could already tell something was up. Instead of suffering in silence and being penalized for issues that were out of my control, my teachers were very supportive and gave me the extra time I needed. It’s also important to share with your friends what is going on with you. If they are true friends, they will support you.
3) Try to anticipate bumps in the road and work ahead.
I know in advance when my midterms are because, like the lovely Sara, I keep a planner with my due dates. Knowing that I might need some mental health dates ahead of time, I started studying earlier than the typical week most students need for exam prep. And when I had emotionally easy days in high school, I would make an extra effort to start projects and papers long before other students were. This gave me the cushion I needed to maintain my sanity and my academics.
4) Never, ever forget the success you’ve already achieved.
For me, I always lose sight of what I have already done. Somehow, I’m concerned that I am at a disadvantage for further achievement because my life comes with more baggage. I regularly need to remind myself that I have already written 20 page papers; another one is not something to worry about. Give yourself the extra boost of confidence by reminding yourself just how much you’ve already done successful- and the small, everyday victories count too!
5) If possible, turn your challenges into advantages.
My experiences with my father turned into a powerful college essay where I was able to catalogue my ability to overcome and be resilient. I do believe that made a difference and showed my academic achievements as more meaningful.
I’ve found that my friends who have also faced life challenges are more mature, empathic, and wise. It takes teenagers and young adults a long time to develop these skills, so if you have developed them early you have an advantage. These are just good coping skills for every aspect of life.
6) Remember, there is more than one way to gauge success. Often the most successful people don’t fit into a traditional box.
Being a successful student is about more than your GPA or getting into the top university or college. It’s about following your curiosity and seeing new ways of looking at the world. One of the times when I feel most like a successful student is when I master something I learned on my own for fun. Create your own way of measuring success!
7) Find resources to help you, and don’t EVER be afraid to ask for help.
I had to accept that when my father was in a coma from a suicide attempt that I was not functioning at my highest level. To pass chemistry, I needed to get a tutor, which was okay. I needed that extra help to make it through the class. By the end of the semester, that B- was a measure that I had been successful. I passed the course and I kept my life together. I needed to ask for that help and to find resources that I required to do well. My current school has a learning center that provides tutoring services, a mental health center that I’ve been to, and a disabilities liaison. Your college/school may have similar resources that you can reach out to.
It’s not easy to maintain academic success when life’s trials bear down on you, but it is very rewarding when you come out on top. Always remember that an education is not about getting it right the first time, sometimes you need to take your focus off academics for a while.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite optimistic quotes about life.
“Life is a grindstone. But whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.” – Thomas Holdcroft