By Spencer Batute
I’m not quite sure how to write one of these personal journey blog posts, as I still don’t feel like I’m at some end goal or vista point that I can look down from and spew some all-seeing knowledge. And I don’t know if I ever will be. But I think that’s the point, and the significance of my perspective: I don’t exactly know just where I’m going, if I’m making the perfect moves, or where I’ll be even half a year from now. I just don’t know. Yet, I’m pushing through, and I believe that makes all the difference. Here is some background on my “journey” (I don’t like to glorify it, because at its core, it’s just me tumbling along) and what has led up to this point.
I graduated from high school in June 2017 as your typical well-performing, type-A student: a 4.0+ GPA, a résumé of many AP classes, and a class rank just shy of the top ten. I applied to 15 colleges before graduation, and was accepted by all but two of them.
Shortly after moving away to college in fall 2017, I encountered one of my first serious bouts with major depression and anxiety. Though I had trouble with my mental health up to this point, my first few months at college proved more challenging than anything I had experienced before. My pre-existing performance anxiety in school and general social anxiety, as well as my exhaustion from my overextension in high school set the stage for a turbulent transition. It quickly became apparent that my neuroses ran too deep to be massaged out by a simple change of environment. Despite giving my classes and my new life my best efforts, I could not beat my brain. My motivation plummeted, my energy drained, and my hope crashed. I had hit a wall, and was not able to keep up with my classes. I was soon diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and subsequently started antidepressant treatment. I withdrew from college in October 2017, only two months after I first entered what I thought to be a new chapter in my life.
Upon returning home from college, I understood that I had a lot of understanding to do. Many questions arose in search of why I had hit such a steadfast wall. Did I not try hard enough? Should I have taken a gap year? Is my brain biologically miswired? Was I at the wrong college? Is college even for me? It would take some time for me to find answers to these questions, and in the search for them I came across even more questions, many of which are still yet to be resolved.
In the past year and a half, though, I have regained much of what I felt was lost while away at college. I am currently back at school—though at a local community college this time—juggling a full class load and a part-time job. This past semester, my first full load since leaving college in 2017, was uniquely challenging, rewarding, intimidating, and uplifting. I nearly broke down at many points, questioning the point in my academic struggles and wondering if I would be better off finding my path outside of the classroom, à la traveling abroad, doing a work exchange, becoming an au pair, etc. In the end, I stuck with school and passed my classes with flying colors. While I still don’t have a major, I’m investing my time into my school’s journalism program, and am once again looking into potential four-year colleges, although those alternatives to school I just mentioned are still things I’d like to do.
Meanwhile, I’ve weaned myself off antidepressants and picked up some game-changing practices like consistent meditation and exercise, and my confidence in myself and in my future has surged to a point higher than it was since leaving high school.
It is usually around this time in reading the success stories of other people that I become mystified and detached from their journey. Obviously, the natural reaction is to be inspired and motivated from such a tale, but I often find myself intimidated and feeling more bad about myself than anything. But how do they get that motivation? What is driving them? Why can’t I just push myself harder and do the same as them?
That’s where the success gets lost in translation. While I can’t speak for others, often times, there isn’t much at all that keeps me pushing. If you were to somehow quantify my academic motivation and put it on a graph, it would look like a sine wave had a temper tantrum and then entered a jump rope contest. Nothing pretty. At very few points, if any, in my journey since 2017 have I felt concretely motivated or known explicitly where I was going. And if you’re anything like me—a type-A perfectionist—you might know how mortifying that can be. But I’ve tried my best to accept that and keep on pushing, and it’s worked thus far.
The point is, you don’t have to know light years in advance what route you’re taking, nor do you have to feel driven by some holy fervor toward your goal. The path to success can take on many shapes and forms, and it rarely plays out how you envision it. It is an intensely subjective concept and can change shape many times over, and that’s okay.
The best advice I can give is that there is no best advice—there is literally an infinite number of ways any one thing can play out, and desperately trying to analyze and synthesize all of those possibilities will almost always cause you more stress than anything. There’s something to be said of just being; things tend to come to you when you surrender to them, and life is a whole lot easier and more meaningful that way. You’ll get there, even if you don’t know where there is.
About Spencer: I am a type-A, perfectionistic, overachieving student who dropped out of a four-year college within the first semester due to struggles with mental health, but fought to make it back to stability and academic success. This is a summary of my story, and also hopefully a lesson in the value of acceptance and of being okay with not knowing.