Letters from the Dorm: university taught me when to let go and give myself a break

By Hilary Lok, Durham University, Britain
By Hilary Lok, Durham University, Britain |

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As someone guilty of constantly overestimating their abilities, I always thought I’d manage to breeze through university with a good social life, good grades, and a part-time job – easy. 

When I got my first part-time job while studying full-time, I was excited; here I was on track towards becoming a Real, Mature Adult (TM) and I’d finally have an extra income to buy things I truthfully didn’t need. 

I always thought getting a job was part of the university experience for some reason. In the movies, everyone leads a romantic double life as a waiter at a late-night diner.  

I don’t regret taking on freelance work, but what I didn’t expect was how hard it would be to juggle everything that needed to be juggled as a functioning human being. I went from staying up late every once in while to socialise in my first year, to staying up because of overtime and essays I had yet to write. However, I got a high from being an accomplished university student with a real-world job to write on my CV, so I kept piling more freelance work onto myself.

Soon, I no longer had the luxury of doing nothing but chat with my friends until four o’clock in the morning; I went to bed in the wee hours of the night regularly because I had work deadlines to meet and academic work I’d neglected in favour of my jobs to catch up on. I was still motivated, but the strain started to show, and I realised I didn’t remember the last time I had anything but deadlines on my mind. 

It took me two months before I finally convinced my pride to let me quit one of my jobs. I traded it in for healthy amounts of sleep again, and the ability to see my friends out of the library. 

The myth of the holy trifecta of university – sleep, study, and social life – is definitely achievable, in my opinion. But it’s a delicate balance, and it’s important to recognise when you’re taking on too much and need to slow down. 

I’m still taking on work as I approach my graduation, but it’s no longer two part-time jobs and one almost-full-time job on top of my degree, and I no longer feel like melting into a puddle of stress and exhaustion. Remember to find time not to work – there’s plenty of time for that after university.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge