The Benefits of Being Challenged

I spent the first half of this semester complaining. I’m not saying I’m proud, I’m just saying it’s a fact.

In my defense, my complaints weren’t exactly unwarranted. I was coming off of a fantastic summer and was facing my most challenging semester academically. It was one of those semesters many students face their junior year – when you try and cram in all the major and minor requirements that you have to take but don’t particularly want to take. To top it off, two of my closest friends and my boyfriend were all studying abroad, which definitely threw a wrench into my routine. I had been warned that junior year would be tricky, but I had kind of hoped I’d be pleasantly surprised and power through like any other semester.

It didn’t quite work that way. At least, not at first.

I had my fair share of breakdowns in the first few weeks of school. For the first time in my college career, I was in a class that truly had me stumped. It seemed that no matter how much material I studied, or how many late nights I spent in Swem, it wasn’t enough. I left my first exam in the class dazed and discouraged; convinced I was headed for failure. My other classes didn’t exactly help either – I was enrolled in two courses at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and was intimidated by the graduate students who were constantly talking about their research and firing questions at the professor. I felt like I was always behind in my schoolwork and I constantly worried about the impact on my GPA. My study habits had always worked for me before, why not now?

But as the semester progressed, I slowly but surely found my footing. Bit by bit, I changed my routine, met with professors, and tested new study habits.  I stopped taking notes on my laptop and stuck to notebooks where I could sketch lecture concepts. I cut down on my commitments and did my best to get eight hours of sleep each night. But mostly, I forced myself to stop worrying about my GPA. I realized that the pressure I was putting on myself to keep up a silly number was negatively affecting my schoolwork and my mental health. Before I even realized it, I was using my time much more efficiently, staying off Facebook and allowing myself to get behind on my television shows. Instead, I spent my free time at the gym, pumping away stress on the elliptical while catching up on English readings. Although my workload didn’t change, I found I was happier, healthier, and woke up in the mornings ready to take on my day. Even when I encountered weeks with laundry lists of tests and due dates, I didn’t lose my momentum.

And now, with only three weeks left in the semester, I can honestly say I’m in the best state I’ve ever been.  My classes have pushed me to work harder than I have before, and I’m coming out the other side more driven than ever. Although I probably won’t be making a 4.0 this semester, I’ll be able to look back and say I earned everything I got with long hours and hard work. I’ve also found that this drive extends far past my school work – I’ve been much happier in my research lab, my leadership positions, and my personal life.

I didn’t come to college to get off easy. If that was really what I wanted, I probably shouldn’t have picked William & Mary. I came to college to push myself, to gain an education I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere. So why, when confronted with a particularly hard semester, would I back down?  Although it took a few weeks to gain my footing, this semester has shown me I can handle a challenge. In fact, I thrive when I am forced to test my boundaries. This semester has taught me that sometimes you need to stumble a bit so you can rise even higher than before.

Besides, that’s what college is really about, right?

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