By Larry Chen
In today’s school atmosphere, everything moves quickly. At UCLA, courses are rushed through in 11 weeks. I finish one set of midterms, only to find myself immediately rushing to prepare for the next set two weeks later. My friends work endlessly during the week, crash on the weekends, and repeat the process. We move so quickly that it seems like we no longer truly have time to look back and ask whether or not we’re doing okay or to look ahead at our futures. COVID-19 has given me a lot of time to self-reflect, and I’ve come to realize that as a society, we could do ourselves a lot of good if we allowed ourselves to slow down.
In my freshman year, one of my best friends from high school died in a car crash. I got a call from his sister a few weeks into winter quarter, saying that there had been an accident on an icy road and that he had died on the scene. Here I was, a few thousand miles from home in Minnesota, in a new city that I was just getting acquainted with, away from my closest friends, feeling very alone. But, I was still enrolled in four classes: Chem 14B, LS 30B, ANE 10W, and LS 7B. I was being inundated with a flood of work every day. I felt like I needed to stop and process what had happened, but I didn’t. The four classes remained on my schedule, even though life had lost its color. I kept trudging onwards because I felt that regardless of what had happened, the world was still turning, with or without me. If I didn’t take those classes, I would fall behind my peers, and I wouldn’t be as competitive when looking for a job or applying to graduate school. As a result, I just kept moving forward, burying my head in my classes and clubs. It took me until the end of the school year to look back on those events and begin trying to heal. Looking back, I have understood that this was the wrong decision for me to make. It would have been much more healthy for me to lessen my load, and take some time to recover emotionally. But regardless of what my actions were, the pressure for me to keep up with the endless tide of progress was still present, a pressure that I am sure many of us feel. Not all of us will succumb to this pressure, and many will make the right decision for themselves, but the burden of keeping afloat will no doubt cause many, like me, to choose a path of action that will harm them.
Serious events are far from the only reason for people to stop and think about themselves. Many of the freshmen who are undecided in their major may not be entirely sure of what field they want to pursue. Many upperclassmen may be pressured to jump directly into graduate school. The pressure to push forward can press these students to make a hasty decision: either to decide a major prematurely or to commit to a profession with wavering confidence. Obviously, this kind of decision making can lead to issues. Like driving without headlights, devoting your time in college towards something you don’t like can leave you stuck in a ditch with your wheels turning, or worse. It would be smarter and safer to take a breath and spend more time probing your paths, before committing to one blindly.
To solve issues like this, we need to allow ourselves to take a break. Slowing the tides of society is impossible, but allowing yourself to step out of the river of progress and take a moment to reflect is important. Doing this won’t automatically solve your problems and doubts, but at least it will give you an opportunity to try and address them. Besides, what does it matter if we work towards making humanity better but at the end of the day we feel worse?
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or pressured to make a decision, allow yourself to consider stepping away for a while instead of just plunging ahead. Maybe you’ll decide that you’re doing okay and want to keep pushing forward. Or, you’ll decide that you aren’t doing so well and need to step back for a second and think things over. Either way would be fine, but what’s important is that you had allowed yourself to make that judgment about your well-being in the first place. Otherwise, you might find yourself digging a hole, like I did, without ever asking why you’re digging that hole in the first place.
As school has picked up again in an unfamiliar online environment and I have had to adapt to learning out of state, I have felt the pressure of college press down upon me again. But this time, I have allowed myself time to take a breath, rein myself in, and clear my head. As a result, I have been better able to stay sane in these challenging times. Allowing ourselves a moment of reprieve won’t instantly get us over the top, but at least it will stop us from falling all the way down.