So it turns out bad weeks still exist.
You might be thinking, “yes of course they still exist, why wouldn’t they?”, so let me explain a little more about what I mean. I’m talking about those weeks that (usually) happen in the middle of end of the semester, where you feel like you have to be in more places than possible for one person, you have midterm papers/exams/p-sets in spades, and there’s no end in sight. Maybe you’re stressed about things outside of academics too, or feel like you don’t understand something (or someone, let’s be honest here), or maybe you’re just plain overwhelmed – it really does happen to the best of us, and I’m convinced that no matter what you’re doing or what your course load is, they’re inevitable. Since weeks like this are most often confined to the school year, this one snuck up on me – I wasn’t expecting it, and it hit that much harder because of it.
As you know if you read my post about virtual research, I’m working in a lab this summer as a PRISE fellow. Overall, it’s been a great experience so far, and I definitely recommend it. However, this week, things definitely caught up to me. Obviously, my summer isn’t happening in a vacuum void of everything going on right now, and I’m also the first to say that as an extravert quarantine has been extra hard – I miss my friends, and I miss campus. This past week, I was also assigned a new project in lab – I was essentially asked to code something to help adapt a larger program we already have to run it for what I’m trying to do already. This is all well and good, except for the fact that at the beginning of the week, I truly knew nothing about programming anything, much less what was asked of me. Starting a new project is always hard, but with the work I had cut out for me, I was feeling incredibly daunted. Fast forward a few VERY long days and a few meltdowns in front of my computer, and the realization hit. This was a bad week. Regardless of whether or not I saw it coming, it was definitely here, and how I handled it was up to me.
All this isn’t to say I was left completely on my own – of course I could and did pose many, many, questions to my lab mentors, googled liberally (think 12+ tabs on the same subject open), and asked my backup weapon, my dad, for help. I can’t emphasize enough about the importance of asking for help when you need it – it's definitely a hard hurdle to get over, but it’s crucial. Maybe I’ll write another post about that sometime.
Overall, when I’m having a tough week, I see the necessary pieces for success as three-fold. I need my support network, I make sure I’m still taking care of myself, and I set some kind of reward for myself at the finish line, however far in the distance it may be (what can I say, I’m motivated by goals!). I make sure to set aside at least a little time to talk to my friends or family, because everyone needs a shoulder to cry on, and because they always know how to make me feel a little bit better. I also make sure I’m still doing the things I need to – even simple things like drinking enough water or eating a snack when I’m hungry. I know in the moment, it can feel like you don’t have a second to spare, but I promise taking a 10-minute walk or nap is 100% worth it. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, make sure to reward yourself for getting through it. It doesn’t matter how you feel you did on the test or what grade you think you’ll get on the paper – take the time to thank your body (and yourself) for getting you through that. It doesn’t have to be crazy, it could just be eating your favorite food or hanging out with your friends for a while - you deserve to celebrate, and you definitely learned a LOT, even if it was somewhat by force. For example, the first thing I did when I finished my project (after sighing in immense relief) was get in my car and go get a giant iced matcha latte. And yes, it was absolutely wonderful and tasted that much better because I knew I had truly earned it.
Finally, I want to add that the purpose of this post is definitely not to make college or Harvard seem terrifying, but quite the opposite. You always know that sometimes there are just going to be bad weeks, but how you handle them and who you have on your side makes all the difference. You’ll be okay, I promise – take it from someone who’s been there.