COVID-19 (Coronavirus), has forced me into a home office. As I write this post, almost all companies in Berlin have closed and asked their employees to work from home. In addition, the start of my last semester at university has been delayed to an unforeseeable date in the future. In stark contrast to how my life usually is, suddenly, I am spending a lot of time at the same desk. Although I’m considered absent due to the international pandemic, my days are packed. I am studying full-time and working a part-time job, which leaves me with a very tight schedule. I am left wishing for a few extra hours in the day to accomplish more things, even if it is sleeping.
The hustle of my university life, albeit hectic, is not unfamiliar as I think back to my time as an IB student. I recall a similar reality where I rarely felt like I was able to cross off all the items on my, “to-do,” list at the end of any given day. There was always something else to work on: finished with your history homework? Great, your English essay is due soon. Done with the visual arts assignment? Why not catch up on the biology class you have already fallen far behind in? I never felt satisfied. At the same time, days in school were a consistent reminder that the mountain of work was not decreasing. Hallway conversations with classmates were filled with discussions about the papers they had handed in, how much of the assigned literature they read and the great universities they were applying to. It seemed as if everyone around me had managed to stay afloat. I began questioning my own ability to keep up and began feeling guilty about taking a day off and not using my time to be, “productive.”
“Recognizing the value of self-care and consciously practicing it is a valuable lesson one should learn early on.”
Self-fulfillment in life is the holy grail of our time, and we are constantly bombarded with the message that, in order to accomplish our dreams, we have to work hard, become more productive and keep doing more and more and more. One of my favorite memes depicts a triangle with three corners saying: “good grades,” “enough sleep” and “social life.” The caption under the image states “College: You can only pick two.” Yet, I think a more fitting caption should say: “You can only pick two, but you always come first.”
Even though the workload has not decreased, I am happier today because I am factoring in my personal well-being and redefining my goals to include self-care. I accepted that I am enough. A day only has 24 hours and given that a healthy amount of time should be spent sleeping, there are limits on how much one can―and should―seek to accomplish.
Now that I am more conscious about self-care, I recognize it is less about finishing everything on your to-do list and more about working on the pieces that bring me closer to where I want to be in life. During my first semester in college, I did not get full marks in every class, and my first reaction was dissatisfaction. My first instinct was: “I am just going to have to work harder.” Because I had promised myself that I would no longer compromise my personal well-being to achieve perfect grades, my first semester at college was filled with great memories of making new friends, exploring a new city and personal growth. This satisfaction, to my surprise, did not mean I was studying or learning less; while my grades were not perfect, I have nevertheless done everything I could, and I was content with the result.
“My definition of success has become more personal”
Recognizing the value of self-care and consciously practicing it is a valuable lesson one should learn early on. The pond will only get bigger; suddenly it is not high school, but a large university with students of various backgrounds and identities. And then, it is no longer a university but a multi-national company with professionals that have different degrees and backgrounds. Diversity increases around you and so does the level of talent. Being the best in all disciplines becomes considerably more difficult, nearly impossible. This is not to say that one should not aim high, only simply to aim high reasonably. Having done one’s best, yet not being the best are not always mutually exclusive. Recognizing this, albeit it is challenging, can promote a healthy vision of one’s self-worth, while also promoting valuable self-care.
Reflecting on my time as an IB student, I wish someone would have sat down with me and reflected upon intrinsic motivation, self-care and mental health. This would have helped me develop a more positive outlook on myself and how I viewed and approached learning. Talking to IB students today, I always encourage them to be self-reflective, to be honest about their mental health and the pressures they place on themselves. It is important for everyone to keep self-care and mental health front-of-mind, because doing so gets increasingly difficult as we try to find our place in an increasingly competitive world.
Today, my definition of success has become more personal. It is no longer solely influenced by my peers or the expectations set into place by society. Often, there are moments when I have to remind myself not to look left and right, but to focus on my personal path ahead and writing this post serves as a great reminder. I no longer wish for more hours in a day to finish everything. I wish confidence for myself that my accomplishments of today are leading to a happy tomorrow.
Lino Kessel is a graduate of the Felix Klein Gymnasium in Göttingen, Germany. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Management at the Berlin School of Economics and Law. His studies have allowed him to live for an extensive time in both Mexico and the United States. On weekends, you are likely to find him at brunch. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Instagram.