Written by Tia Chen-Wong.

This semester, I experienced burnout for the first time and believe me, it wasn’t pretty. After a whirlwind summer of classes, internships in San Francisco, and training sessions for my Resident Assistant job, I jumped right into fall semester and slammed into a wall of physical and emotional fatigue. I have never had to worry about a lack of energy before, and I have always been able to push through the “Berkeley grind” without a single sip of coffee (I still don’t drink caffeine). But this time, my workload finally caught up with me and took over my life. Every week was a new challenge: two midterms, then catching a random virus that landed me flat on my back for four days, then filming a short film that completely eclipsed all schoolwork, then cramming for three midterms in one week, then getting sick all over again…I feel like this week is the first time I can actually breathe, which is ironic considering all the wildfire smoke and my lingering cough. But even though it’s been a rough and wild ride, I have learned many crucial life lessons along the way:

Be Your Own Best Friend

The first time I got sick this semester, I knew it wasn’t a typical common cold. I was extremely dehydrated, the skin on my face started peeling, and a dark red rash appeared on my forearms. It freaked me out so much that I tried something revolutionary: immediately going to bed and sleeping for twelve hours straight. Usually I just power through my work no matter how high my fever is, but my body was sending me so many signs that I had no choice but to listen to it. After three days of drinking chicken broth and taking multiple naps, I visited the Tang Center already feeling much better. The nurse applauded me for practicing such “impressive self-care,” which was the first compliment I had ever received on that subject. Again, there is extreme irony in the fact that I am an RA, and I preach self-care to my residents all the time, but it turns out that prioritizing your body’s well-being works wonders. So the next time you get sick, stop straining your body and take a nap! You will be ten times more productive when you are one hundred percent healthy.

Don’t Be Busy, Be Effective

I currently juggle two jobs and three extracurricular commitments on top of classes, so I often feel the need to work on two or three tasks at once. I am also constantly communicating with people: bosses, coworkers, classmates, project group members, club committee members, the list goes on and on. Last month when midterms were in full swing, I would often be on my phone during class because I thought that responding to emails and Slack messages as soon as possible was more efficient. Unfortunately, when I cracked open my notebooks to study for three different midterms the following week, there were so many gaps in my notes that I had to spend hours catching up. I had to learn it the hard way, but focusing on one thing at a time puts you way ahead of the curve. You will actually finish the tasks you set out to do, and that sense of accomplishment will push you to be more productive overall. As Millennials, we might have a reputation for looking at several different screens at once, but that does not mean we have to. If it works for you, by all means go ahead, but I would encourage you to at least consider whether multitasking is actually making you more effective, or just busy.

Plan Strategically

Both before and after getting into Haas, I have always felt the need to fill my extracurricular involvements to the absolute brim. Maybe it is because of the competitive culture of this school, or maybe it is because I want to get the most out of my time here (it’s probably a mix of both), but I purposefully stack my days with meetings, events, and projects. This fall, I took it to the extreme, and I became increasingly distracted by immediate deadlines while ignoring the big picture. This led to a terrifying moment earlier this month when I started asking myself questions like, what exactly have I accomplished this semester? Am I getting any closer to my dream career or goals for the future? What do I ultimately want to achieve before I graduate? It may sound cliche, but college goes by really fast without you even noticing it. So take a moment to stop and think: where are you putting your time and energy? Are you taking classes and joining clubs that will help you get closer to your long term goals? Or could you be filling your schedule with something more strategic? Your college experience is what you make of it, so do not let the best opportunities pass you by. Every once in a while, take a step back from the daily distractions and make sure you can see the big picture.

Choose Gratitude

Not just during Thanksgiving, but every day! Studies have shown that gratitude significantly improves your physical, mental, and psychological health while increasing empathy and self-esteem. At first, I responded to the stress of burnout by complaining to others about my workload or succumbing to self-pity, but now I realize that there is a far more positive way to react. When I think of all the people who have helped me grow as a professional and person, I suddenly feel like I can conquer the world. For instance, this October I met and connected with Carey Oh, a Cal alumni who basically has my dream job of marketing for Disney Studios. She was kind enough to schedule not one, not two, but three separate phone calls with me over the past two months, just so I could ask all my questions and have a deeper discussion with her. Another person I am grateful to is Erin Ochi, a production manager for Nickelodeon who chatted with me over the phone and then invited me to visit her at the studio in Burbank during winter break. These opportunities are invaluable for someone who is just entering the industry, and I am truly indebted to them for their time and kindness. I am also extremely grateful to all my friends, both new and old, who support me and help me grow as an individual. Whether they are fellow RAs, Disney Club enthusiasts, Haas Undergraduate Blog writers (HUGE shoutout to blog manager Annie Wang!), or BCEC film committee members (pictured above), I could not get through college without them. And last but not least, I would be nothing without my phenomenal family and amazing parents–more than anyone, they have shown me what selflessness looks like, and the incredible impact it has on others. I am so grateful for them, and they inspire me to give a little back every day.

Would I say that I have achieved perfect work-life balance and inner peace? No, but I am a lot closer now than where I was at the start of this semester. My hope is by sharing my experience, I can help others avoid the mistakes I made and cultivate a more productive and healthy lifestyle. And best of all, remember that you are surrounded by a network of family and friends who will always support you in your journey toward becoming the best version of yourself.

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