Don’t Burn Out Just Yet

Between this spring and last, I have come to a seemingly unpopular opinion that spring is the hardest term of the year. After Winter Break, students have two months of school and, subsequently, Spring Break. However, even after two weeks of break, I felt burnt out heading into the term. The third and final trimester includes ten long weeks of school, which can be difficult to endure at the end of the academic year. Unlike Spring, Fall term comes after summer vacation, and Winter Term has a mid-trimester break, which affords students more downtime. This isn’t to say that one term is particularly easier than another; however, campus-wide burnout is more prevalent in students in the spring. As the end of the school year approaches, I find myself expending energy, wondering how I will manage to make it to summer break with a decent GPA. As I have consulted my family and friends for advice, I have reflected on the importance of preventing and mitigating burnout.

I have come to realize my burnout and stress often come from overcommitting. Because club turnovers happen in the spring, students often have more on their plate between final performances, papers, and tests. Long days, running from dress rehearsals to group project meetings to studying for my majors or AP exams, constituted my Spring Term. While I’ve become accustomed to the rigorous schedule synonymous with life at Andover, it can become difficult for even the best students to meet every demand. I haven’t always understood that trimming down a laundry list of commitments doesn’t make me any less capable or competent. Furthermore, in pursuing this faux success, I end up anchoring myself with obligations. However, quantity and quality are often mutually exclusive. This has made me struggle to make it to chorus rehearsals or submit assignments for the extra elective I pressured myself to enroll in. I’d consistently succumbed to the tendencies that led me to take on a course load that I couldn’t handle or juggle extracurriculars that consumed all my time. However, after many sleepless nights spent catching up on missing assignments, I began reducing my commitments to only those I could manage while prioritizing my wellness. In my case, I made the difficult decision to walk away from certain obligations, such as outdoor track, in order to make sure I consistently slept eight hours a night and succeeded academically. This decision freed me from much stress and reduced my burnout, allowing me to devote my full attention to a handful of obligations and thrive in each.

While I have continued to combat overcommitment, I have come to realize that perfectionism has been contributing equally to my exhaustion. This winter, I was a cast member in “Shrek the Musical.” From the first rehearsal, I was committed to delivering my best performance. However, mere weeks before opening night, I caught the flu and was out of classes and rehearsals for a week. Naturally, when I returned to practice a week later, I immediately realized that my voice was half as strong as it was before, affecting my confidence. For hours every night, I would run vocal exercises and obsess over every measure and word I sang until I was satisfied — but it never came. My performance came at the mercy of the state of my voice, which needed time to heal. Even when it eventually rebounded, I failed to recognize that perfection is unattainable. The goalposts I set for myself continuously evolve, making it impossible for me to chase perfection and be content with my abilities.

Undoing my mindset on perfectionism was no easy feat. I was adamant about meeting my failures with denial instead of embracing my humanity. However, during Spring break, I witnessed my father’s rejection for an academic grant he had worked tirelessly for. Initially, I expected my father to react like I would — by sulking around the house and living off Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. However, I was shocked and inspired when he chose to do the opposite. He told me that dwelling on one seemingly massive failure would only hinder his ability to succeed elsewhere in his life, whether as a scholar, father, or husband. Instead, he decided to step back and assess what areas he could improve on to turn his failure into success. His ultimate goal wasn’t perfection but rather satisfaction with his achievements and capabilities.

Being a student at Andover can be taxing, especially towards the end of each year. However, there are conscious decisions we can make as students to relieve ourselves from unnecessary stressors. Being mindful that we are not biting off more than we can chew or expecting too much from ourselves is a central part of making sure school is a catalyst of our curiosity and learning — not an obstacle.