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Apathy vs. discontent in college

Everyone hits a stage in life, the year, the semester, or even the day when everything that requires academic effort seems pointless or impossible. It’s not that you’re too depressed or sad to do anything, it’s just that it’s way easier to listen to music on the couch and scroll through Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Tumblr or what-have-you. This can especially be a problem in classes that don’t contribute to your field of study. It seems that motivation arrives only when you absolutely cannot put an assignment off any longer.

Is there a solution to getting motivation back, or finding it in the first place? It’s something you’ll have to do if you want to get the most out of your time in college. I’m hesitant to say “get the most out of your education,” because that’s such a cliche phrase. One of the sources, in my opinion, of the apathetic mindset in college is that students think of it as nothing more than an education. It’s a wall that takes 4+ years to climb, but then you can finally enter the “real world” and start your life.

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If you think of your time at any university as a pit-stop, that’s what it will be. To make college worth while, you need to give it the same value you would designate to a future career. Even “pointless” classes are not so pointless when you think not only of the subject matter, but also of the personal growth you will earn by putting effort into something you do not necessarily enjoy.

Of course, there is an exception to the amount of effort you should put into less important classes. In my opinion, most of your time should be devoted to the classes most applicable to your post-graduation path. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your grade in one class in order to do as well as you’d like in another, more major-specific class. On the other hand, don’t confuse a class you dislike with a class you will benefit less from. It is highly likely that you will encounter a required class for your major/minor that drives you up a wall. This isn’t the type of class you should push aside, because completing those difficult assignments proves you are hardworking and dedicated. If you have no motivation to get through classes that will move you closer to your life’s passion, it’s possible that you should consider changing your educational path.

This can be a difficult area to navigate, as the line between productive challenge and fruitless struggle can be very thin. On one hand, you don’t want to give up based on one or a few troublesome assignments, but on the other, you don’t want to waste time doing something from which you may never receive fulfillment. Take the following comparisons lightly, as I am not a professional in any way, but here are some factors I consider when deciding if something I’m doing is worth the effort and frustration.

Productive Challenges:

  • take time
  • require attention and effort beyond regular tasks
  • push you to accomplish them through self-competition or a passion for the subject
  • result in some type of inner fulfillment

Fruitless Struggles:

  • take an unnecessary amount of time, jeopardizing other important tasks
  • leave you completely stumped, even after receiving a reasonable amount of assistance
  • deter you from completing them because of anxiety, stress, or a lack of motivation
  • result in little to no inner fulfillment beyond simply being relieved that the task is over

This is not a concrete categorization, as some productive challenges may truly leave you empty and directionless at times. However, you have to consider outside factors as well. If you’ve had a bad day, you are more likely to give up on something no matter how much you value it. It is best to make these decisions when you are well-rested and essentially stress-free, and after some time has passed. If at that point you feel strongly that a class or even an entire major is not benefiting you, it is a powerful indication that you should make a change.

Lastly, don’t beat yourself up if you decide to drop, withdraw, change majors, etc. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of calling yourself a “loser” or “quitter” when long-held plans do not work out. However, if anything it shows strength and confidence to break away from something that you are not passionate about, because it means giving up that safety net of certainty for a blank slate.

Until next time, have a lovely week!

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