This feature originally appeared September 7, 2012, in issue 2034.
You’ve got your books. You’ve got your supplies. You’ve carved out time and finances and a space to work, and now You’re ready to begin the school year.
Except that You’re not, really.
You sit at your desk and stare at the schedule?and stare and stare. You have a headache. You’re terrified. You want to be excited, you need to get a good start, and yet You’re just not feeling it. What you are feeling is a little over your head.
We hear a lot about scheduling, and for good reason. Figuring out your study plan is crucial; and whether you use a daily schedule or set weekly goals, having some kind of plan is key to your educational success.
But sometimes, marrying yourself to your schedule?especially early in the semester?can hurt more than it helps.
Have you ever started out with plans to do a distance run, but got sidelined early in the race thanks to cramps or exhaustion? Maybe you didn’t warm up enough. Maybe you started out too fast, with too great an intensity. Or maybe you threw yourself into it with no idea of the physical and emotional costs.
An educational journey is the same way. As soon as we get our course materials, we figure out goals, set up schedules, and commit ourselves to a rigorous plan of study and focus. We fear that if we fall behind at the beginning, we’ll never catch up, so we push ourselves hard in the first few weeks.
But amidst all our good intentions, we’re forgetting something vitally important: the semester isn’t a sprint, It’s a cross-country run. And overdoing it at the outset can often mean we get burned out more quickly later on, when it matters even more.
Some long-distance runners prefer to go at a moderate pace early in the run, and then amp it up midway through once they’re warmed up and comfortable. Similarly, easing yourself into your new course load may give you the chance to prepare yourself emotionally, mentally, and, yes, physically, for the academic marathon You’re about to take on.
If you’ve got a block, You’re extremely stressed, or you think you’ve taken on more than you can handle, then start out at a gentler pace. You’ve made a schedule, but you don’t have to stick to it the first week or two. Giving yourself time to get accustomed to your courses?or, if You’re a new student, to university-level academics in general?may put you behind a few days, but you’ll easily catch those up once you find yourself getting into the flow of the semester.
Starting out strong may sound good in theory, but in the end It’s a steady pace and a strong, determined finish that will make or break your academic career. Slow but steady truly does win the race.