Opinion: How I Learned To Give Myself a Break

My personal and academic evolution in 2020


Emma Dortsch, Copy Editor

My 2020 started on the roof of a downtown apartment building with a view of the Space Needle. I’d waited eagerly to watch the fireworks go off. They didn’t; it was too windy. Maybe that was some sort of tip from the universe that the year ahead would be an exceptional one.

My life has changed dramatically since then. Like everyone else, when COVID-19 became a public hazard in March, I had to adjust to being in my house 24/7, learn how to cope during self-isolation and somehow “go on with my life” as best I could. Nearly a year later, not much has changed.

Although it lacked day-to-day variety, 2020 turned out to be quite an eye-opening year for me. I came to a few important realizations, but the most crucial one concerned my relationship with both academics and myself.

A Humble Beginning

Not long after starting at SCC, I learned that taking a full load of classes while working part-time was too much for me, so I began taking fewer courses; but when winter 2020 rolled around, I decided that I wasn’t happy with my progress and enrolled in three classes again.

Unsurprisingly, this resulted in me becoming gradually more stressed out over the course of the quarter — so when the college announced that the last couple weeks of instruction would be online, I didn’t mind at all. Spending some time at home sounded nice.

I still didn’t mind when the administration decided that spring quarter would be conducted remotely, since I assumed that the school would be back to in-person operations by fall. Besides, I’d taken part in online schooling before and loved it: how you could work from anywhere, pace your work throughout the week and “go to class” at any time of day. The flexibility of online classes tended to help me succeed.

Attending classes via Zoom was something new, but I welcomed how the medium added some semblance of structure to my life and provided a way to interact with people during quarantine. I found another upside when I realized that I could stay in my pajama pants while still appearing to be dressed from the waist up during calls.

Struggles With Schooling

Even though I’d had prior experience with online classes, the first few months of remote learning proved challenging. The end of winter quarter was hard because instructors who hadn’t taught online before had to modify their classes overnight to finish up the curriculum, and a number of difficulties were still being ironed out during spring quarter.

As time went on, I began to feel increasingly separated from my schooling. Without a clear idea of what the future was going to be like, I started to lose motivation and struggled to apply myself to my classes. It was getting harder to see how they were relevant. I began to take too much advantage of the flexible structure that online classes provided and got into the habit of doing my work at the very last minute.

After a not-so-great summer quarter, I paused and decided to reevaluate. I ended up changing my entire approach to school and plans for the near future.

High Expectations

For years, I’ve guilted myself about not having made “adequate progress” when it comes to societal milestones and accomplishments despite having good reason to be where I am, and this particularly applies when it comes to schooling.

I’m less than comfortable with how much my timeline differs from the cookie-cutter outline my advisor handed me when I began planning my academic career. The majority of my high school peers who went to college are about to graduate this year with bachelor’s degrees, while I’m still working on an associate degree.

Ever since I first fell “behind,” I’ve crafted demanding academic timelines for myself in an effort to “catch up” to my high school class, but I’ve never been able to follow them. When I’ve needed to drop classes or take quarters off due to having burned myself out, I’ve shamed myself to no end. I’ve held myself to unrealistic standards hoping that I can somehow prove myself.

Logically, I know that there’s nothing for me to prove. I don’t even need to have “good reasons” to justify whether I have or haven’t met certain expectations; everyone has their own path in life and goes through things at their own pace, and there’s no reason for me to hurry. Deep down, though, I never truly believed that sentiment when it applied to me.

Learning to Pause

I had lots of time to reflect on my progress during the monthlong break between the summer and fall quarters, and for the first time I did so honestly. I decided that societal milestones don’t matter to me in the least while I’m stuck in my house, but more importantly, that a pandemic had been going on for nine months and I needed to give myself an *actual* break for once.

For now, I’m just letting myself relax and do what seems fun. The classes I’m currently taking are completely unrelated to my degree and I’m making time to explore some of my other interests.

I’ve stopped worrying about being successful and started allowing myself to breathe. I don’t know what future quarters hold for me, but I feel that I’ve overcome a huge barrier. For once, I’m looking forward to what comes next instead of stressing over it.

Even though the Space Needle fireworks failed to go off again this New Year’s Eve, I wasn’t disappointed — this time I wasn’t expecting a performance. Instead, I enjoyed the moment and was pleasantly surprised when a virtual light show kicked off 2021.