We've all been there.
Embarking on a new chapter at SMU is exciting. Being matriculated into SMU has meanings extending beyond simply being a freshman in a university. It’s a step closer to dreams and aspirations. It’s a chance to reinvent oneself. To me, it’s a rite of passage signifying the transformative journey into adulthood, marked by new responsibilities, personal and professional growth, and the pursuit of knowledge.
The hallmarks of SMU can be summarised by three things: freedom, opportunities, and convenient location. If freshman students aren’t careful, these blessings will turn into pitchforks, and students eventually embark on a perilous path of overcommitting. This new chapter will instantaneously turn sour and painful when students can’t cope with the excessive amount of CCAs, classes, and social obligations they’ve agreed to. Unfortunately, I embarked on this dangerous journey myself.
How it started
Coming from a more "hand-held" JC environment, I yearned for freedom, which was awarded to me at SMU. In hindsight, this very freedom became my Achilles heel. Bright-eyed and eager, I was ready to take on the world. With the ample opportunities that SMU provided, I strived to take as many as I could. You know, may hay while the sun shines. However, what I didn’t realise I was doing was essentially overcommitting. I was biting off more than I could chew and I bet many current and past freshmen can relate.
I should have seen it coming when I signed up for not one, not two, but FOUR orientation camps. I even let out a little chuckle because I knew others who went for five and thought it was overkill. Whilst I enjoyed my time during the camps, my social battery was utterly flat by the third camp, which hinted at impending challenges.
Rivalry and temptations
The thing about overcommitting is that you don’t just overcommit just because you can. For a better explanation, it’s about playing on the same levelling field as your peers and other freshmen. As a Singaporean student being thrown into this rat race, you would want to ensure you’re not left behind. Point in case:
"Oh, Celine’s taking up an academic club and a sports club? I just
might do so too."
"Javier’s taking five mods this sem? If he can do it, I can do it too."
"Ritesh is working a part-time job on top of his studies? I better start finding a job too."
The thing is, I just didn’t want to lose out, especially when it was just the start.
Another thing was the amount of social obligations there can be, which compounded the overcommitment issue. FOMO is a terrible vice which can kick in particularly when you’re trying to settle down in a new environment and find a consistent group of friends. It’s so tempting to go for that HaiDiLao supper just because your newly made friends suggested it and you want to be included. Or that clubbing at Cherries. Or that dinner at Plaza Sing.
On the 14th of August, my 5-mod semester kicked off with a chaotic mix of CSP interviews, CCA clinics and freelance work.
Things were chaotic for the first five weeks as I was trying to adapt to seminar-styled lessons, find friends, and settle down. No one rushed me but myself. I was in a hurry to do everything.
The following weeks settled down in terms of chaos, but my workload was still sky-high. I joined three CCAs, had an ongoing CSP, freelance work, and my five mods. Something had to suffer, and that was my sanity. Week by week, I lost the purpose of what I was doing and was merely subscribing to the motion of everything. The initial excitement I had before entering university was now crushed by exhaustion. It felt like I wasn’t controlling SMU anymore, but rather SMU was controlling me.
My zeal was zero; I wasn’t excelling in any area of my life. I slept for so little yet churned out so much. To illustrate it further, it felt like I was drowning. All my commitments were chained to my ankle and pulled me down while I kept flailing to keep at the surface. But I told myself I couldn’t drown so fast, not in Sem 1. I gave everything my best effort till the end. Burnt out or not, I survived. That was all that mattered then. This was a wake-up call to reevaluate my approach.
To cope well
The semester flew by in the blink of an eye, but certain moments were extremely tiring as I spread myself too thin. I would have liked to tell you all that I learned my lesson and stepped into Sem 2 with a lighter workload, but unfortunately, I didn’t. Opportunities arose for me and I felt like I would regret not having taken it (#YOLO). Instead, I have learned to cope better and will share a few tips!
As cliche as it seems, my number one advice is to find a stable support system. You can find your support system anywhere, from your classes to your CCAs. I was lucky enough to find mine in my CCA. My friends and I suffered through Sem 1 together, even when we were training six times a week and with a million other commitments as well. Sharing the struggles with your friends, even silently, helped alleviate some of the weight I was carrying.
My second piece of advice might seem counterintuitive, but it is to have a hobby. You might be thinking, why do something that is not value-adding to my never-ending list of things to complete? Let me rephrase my advice: have a hobby you like. Doing something you fancy reduces stress and improves your well-being. Whilst juggling my commitments, I bought a paint-by-numbers kit and went to the gym frequently. These two hobbies became my temporary escape from suffering; I was happy not having to think about anything. This worked for me as I eventually found back the excitement I had for school.
Our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man once said, "With great power comes great responsibility," The freedom at SMU is a powerful tool and finding balance is key. Ensure that you can handle whatever you get into. Otherwise, you will be asking for a little more trouble for yourself. By setting practical goals and learning to say no, you’ll be on your way to a well-balanced university life. This will be helpful in future chapters in life, so let’s not overcommit next time!