I am officially DONE with my first college finals, marking the end of my first quarter here at UCLA. What a milestone. I cannot stress it enough when I say that these past ten weeks FLEW by, and within this short time span, I’ve grown immensely and learned so much about myself. More on my first quarter college experience to come. In this post, I want to let you guys in on some of my post-finals contemplations.
Initial feelings: RELIEF. Not much surprise there. A stifling burden has been lifted from my chest… These past two weeks (since Thanksgiving holiday) have pretty much been non-stop studying, with dance practices and YouTube dives in between to revitalize my now-fried brain. Last Thursday, I took my Human Aging final exam, which was a bit harder than I had anticipated. I’m crossing my fingers for that highly coveted A, although I’ve already told myself that even if I get a B, I WON’T repeatedly beat myself up for it, because I know I put my best foot forward. The chemistry final was on Sunday (I know, finals on Sunday’s?!), and it really wasn’t too bad, although I know I got one Lewis structure question wrong. Today I finished off with a math final. It was actually quite difficult… nearly everyone I spoke to agreed that the final was much harder than expected. The testing conditions were substandard– the room was freezing, the dang door was making so much noise as people entered and exited the room, and the professor kept pointing out errors in the test AS WE WERE taking the exam. Poor testing environment aside, I am proud of myself and my classmates for powering through the tricky exam and problem-solving our ways through the questions that looked unfamiliar.
In the past, I’d have a tendency to fall into a mild state of depression after accomplishing something I had been working towards for a long while. The day I finished AP tests during senior year of high school, I locked myself in my room and cried. After months of studying for these exams, I felt completely empty and lost without a concrete goal to guide me.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Really Belicia? You had just finished the last challenge of high school, you were about to have the longest and most relaxing summer in your life, and in a few months you would be off to start a new chapter at an amazing university… and you were crying?! What for??”
However, this whole trend of goal-induced depression is more common than you’d think. The most obvious example is that of Olympic athletes. They dedicate their whole lives to one moment of glory on the Olympic stage, and when it’s over, they are left wondering, What do I do with my life now?
When you work towards a goal for so long and finally achieve it, it’s normal to feel unsure of what to do with yourself after reaching what you’ve been fighting for. Such is one of the pitfalls of tunnel-visioning yourself in the pursuit of a single goal. Maintaining a reasonable degree of balance in your life during the pursuit of a goal is an important way to make sure your life is intact once the goal has been reached. But it is also the type of goals you set for yourself that affect how you cope after you’ve achieved them.
In the past, I’d often set goals based on EXTERNAL validation, like winning a gymnastics or dance competition, or getting a 100% on an exam. If the goal was achieved, I would experience a transitory moment of euphoria and pride. But this “glory” is quick to fade. I’d go back home, sit in my room, and wonder… What now? In the whole-hearted pursuit of a goal based on external reward, like praise or good-looking numbers, I’d oftentimes forgo many other important aspects of life, like relationships and health. When the goal was accomplished, I’d receive the validation I so desperately sought, only to float back to reality and realize that the rest of my life had been neglected in the pursuit of the single goal.
To break this unhealthy cycle of setting a goal, going all-out to accomplish it, only to fall into a depressive state once the goal is achieved, I must ask myself, what kind of thought patterns proliferate this trend?
My problem lies not only in my tendency to work to the extreme in the pursuit of my goals, leaving every other aspect of life in the dust, but also in the types of goals I set for myself.
Goals like “win the competition” or “get an A” are short-term goals that can easily become pursuits for external validation. Remember, short-term goals are stepping stones on the path to achieving a long term goal. Once you’ve achieved a short-term goal, you have won the battle, but have yet to win the war (my apologies for the militaristic diction).
So what is a long term goal? As the name implies, a long term goal differs from a short-term goal in that it takes a long time– months, years, or even a lifetime– to achieve. Some may never truly reach their long term goals, instead using their pursuit as a means to ensure lifelong personal growth. Examples of long term goals include, “reaching my greatest potential in [activity X]”, “pursuing my dream career”, or even something as abstract as “being a good person”. Ultimately, long-term goals stem from the premise of continual growth, with short-term goals serving as markers of such growth. It is dangerous to pursue a long-term goal out of the desire for external validation, like wanting to be a doctor or the next Olympic gold medalist for the money, prestige, or fame. Long-term goals should be intrinsically motivated.
The thing I need to realize, however, is that growth should not stop after I’ve accomplished a short-term goal. Would you attempt to reach the summit of Everest, only to stop after successfully clearing a rough patch halfway up the mountain?
In the past, I’d tunnel-vision myself in the pursuit of a short-term goal, like winning a competition, whilst losing sight of the long-term goal of growth. I’d study so hard for a high-stakes exam, like the SATs, and pass with flying colors, only to fall into a state of depression after it was over.
Why did I get depressed? Because I lost sight of the bigger picture. I lost sight of WHY I was fighting so hard to achieve these short-term goals, like doing well on exams and such. I was looking for external validation, when in reality, I really needed to be focusing on growing and taking a little step further to achieve my long-term goal. Thus, the types of short-term goals I was setting for myself were ineffective as well. Because short-term goals and long-term goals are inherently linked, one should not set short-term goals based on desire for external reward. This is losing sight of the long-term goal of growth. Sure, if you win a dance competition, you’d be right to feel pride, as such an accomplishment is a marker of your growth as a dancer. It is a clear indicator that you’re one step closer to achieving your long-term goal of being the greatest dancer you can possibly be. However, even if you end up not winning the competition, as long as you’ve shown personal improvement in your dancing, you should feel just as much pride, as you’ve achieved just as much personal growth. This is the kind of healthier mindset I’m trying to adopt in my journey towards betterment.
Now, let’s say that after much time and energy and dedication, I finally achieved a long-term goal, like becoming a doctor. What then? Do I stop fighting? Do I resign myself to complacency and stagnation, like many former Olympic athletes do? No. Once a long-term goal has been achieved, find another one, and start a new journey of growth.
It’s been nearly 12 hours since I finished my last final. While I was super relieved upon stepping out of Moore 100 lecture hall, I was also worried that my history of post-achievement-depression (I totally just made that term up, lol) would rear its ugly head. I’m happy to say that I have not fallen into a state of stagnation, unsure of what next step to take. Completing my first college finals is a huge battle won, this is by no means an end. I must remember, why am I doing all of this? For external validation? No. To expand my mind and grow as a scholar? To learn information and skills that’ll be useful for my future career? Yes and yes. The growth does not stop here. There is no need to get depressed, because there will always be something more to strive for. And with the peace of mind that I studied as hard as I could for my finals and, in turn, solidified concepts and grew intellectually, I walk away from achieving the short-term goal of doing well on finals with a serene smile on my face.
Now, it’s back to work. By work, I mean growth. Achieving a short-term goal, like doing well on your finals, is indeed a battle won. But this is not the end. I have a month of winter break to look forward to, and I don’t intend on spending it in my room, ruminating. A key part of growing is learning to set new short-term goals for yourself every day, and not just achieving the ones expected of you, like exams. Being proactive about challenging yourself is integral to ensure long-term growth.
Each day is a battle to nurture yourself and take a little step closer to the long-term goals we set for ourselves. The words “carpé diem” have never been truer. In life, there is never enough room for growth, and to me, such is the essence of being an effective human being. By ingraining this growth mindset into my very being, I will remain forever stimulated and invigorated for what each new day will bring.
If you are still reading this, thank you for putting up with my rambling. Expect a lot more articles coming soon highlighting my college experience thus far, how I’ve grown this past quarter, tips for incoming college freshmen, as well as advice for current high school seniors getting acceptance letters from colleges.
Have a great night, everyone!