3 years into university and I was burnt out. I was ready to quit. In fact, I was more than ready. I had talked to course councillors, flown across the country to my parent’s house for support and basically given up doing any of the course work despite being midway through the semester.
I was done.
I am a fundamentally happy person. I’m that annoying, overenthusiastic friend – the one who is always bouncing off the walls, talking a mile a minute and excited by everything.
University sucked all of that right out of me.
I was over-worked and over-everything.
I stopped going to classes. I didn’t feel smart enough (a law degree will give you an inferiority complex like no other), I was always stressed, broke and on the verge of breaking down wondering whether I was going further and further down the wrong path.
So I decided to leave the country.
It happened on a complete whim. My best friend visited, we went to the travel agent out of curiosity and left having booked flights to Europe. I don’t think I have ever felt such elation. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
Taking a break halfway through your degree is generally frowned upon. Everyone will tell you to stick it out, see it through to the end. Gap years are generally acceptable – except if you happen to need that gap year halfway through your degree. There is a presumption that if you leave university and go out into the ‘real world’ that you’ll never go back. You’ll be a failure who never finished their degree. It’ll be a permanent stain on your character.
Luckily for me, I have parents who also see the value in real world experience and recognised that their daughter was crumbling under the pressure. Dad hammered me about where to go and what to do, while my darling Mother, well, she bought me a rape whistle…
(which I forgot to take, sorry Mum!!)
So I struggled to the end of the semester using the thought of mulled wine, gondola rides and castles as my motivation. I made a secret deal with myself that if I passed, I would finish the degree and go from there.
November came. I finished exams. I packed my bags. I kissed my boyfriend goodbye and my best friend and I started our adventure.
And it changed everything.
Removing myself from the pressures of home sparked something in me. A realisation. It wasn’t that I hated my degree, it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it – I just needed a break. After an evening hiking in the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland, I got my university results. My best friend said she had never seen someone so excited. That summer I spent 10 weeks gallivanting around Europe and I came home fulfilled, ready and eager to go back to university.
My story isn’t uncommon.
University is demanding. The pressure is intense. The self-doubt is incessant.
That’s why recognising when you need a break is so important. Recognise it and stop judging yourself for needing it. You aren’t weaker than or inferior to your fellow students. Your needs are just different.
Isn’t it worth taking the break and enjoying the rest of your degree, rather than suffering through years of study just to get it done?
And even though I finished a year later than the rest of my classmates, I know I’d make the same choice again.