I plead guilty to being burnt-out

Writer: Xena Semeleer


I don’t think I love anything in the world more than a good challenge, ever since I could remember I’ve been a very determined and persevering person. On paper this sounds like a recipe for the perfect student, however, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. I’ve been silently struggling with a burn-out for half a year; this is how my burn-out came to be, and how I'm currently dealing with it.


Before we get into the meat of the matter, I would like to give a brief insight as to how I became the determined person that stands before you. My father was one out of 13 siblings and lived in a small two bedroom house. He was a highly respected man in the oil industry on Aruba and is now retired. He managed everything regarding fossil fuel for the whole island, he also happens to be a high school dropout. My mother was the first of 4 siblings and came from a low-income family in Curaçao. She moved to Aruba when she met my father. She has been working at the local bank for 40 years and has managed countless departments; she only has her high school diploma.


Yes, I am a first-generation college student, and like most first-generation college students, my parents have bestowed upon me the importance of getting a degree.

Not only do I have the pressure of getting a degree, but I also have the pressure to be successful because in theory, if they could do it then so can I.


Going abroad to attend university was a no brainer; it was the only chance I had to make something out of myself. Staying on the island meant working in tourism or a boring nine to five office job, which would not spark any joy and fulfillment in any way, shape, or form. I did what every ambitious high school graduate did on the island – packed my bags and left two months after obtaining my diploma.


Every year a team of senior students, that have already made the life-changing decision to move to the Netherlands, guide about 250 freshman students through the preparation needed to make the big move. Upon your first week of arrival, they make sure to arrange everything from bank accounts to housing and plan social outings in between. Fortunately, due to the overwhelming amount of students that have to come to get a degree each year, I was surrounded by all of my friends. During these outings, you would hear stories of how the valedictorian dropped out of university to become a tattoo artist or the number of students that have been here for over seven years and still don’t have a degree. I was convinced that this was not going to happen to me.


My first year in my program went smooth; I put in the hours, checked all the boxes and obtained my Propedeuse the following fall. Everything was going according to plan, at this rate I was on track to graduate on schedule. However, this was not the only thing that would happen that fall. This was also the fall the oil refinery closed its doors, leaving my high school dropout father without a job. In my second year, I was required to go abroad and live in an English speaking country for 10 weeks, and due to the sudden change in my family’s financial situation, I would have to pay this myself. Seeing that there was no way I was going to accept delaying my graduation, I got a job in fashion retail in a fancy store. I was able to gain knowledge and experience in fashion instead of only focusing on school. I became a master in wearing different hats. I was attending school three days a week, going to my internship twice a week, working three days a week, and keeping up my bubbling social life. This amounts to a total of eight days a week, and unfortunately for me, there are only seven days in a week. I was working overtime, and I loved it.


You might think that overworking myself to the brink of insanity was what led me to my burn-out. However, this is not the case. The reason I got burnt-out was due to my inability to swerve. I realized this over the course of winter break, when I was reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography and in which she describes how she lived her whole life never deviating from the path society has laid because this is what had to be done in order to become successful. Not once did she stop and think if it truly brought her happiness. This raised a concern that I had been dwelling upon ever since my arrival from my stay abroad. I was no longer working in retail and was back to my military-like routine for school. Wake up at dawn, commute, internship or school, commute, home, sleep and repeat. I no longer felt challenged and school assignments all looked the same – essays, essays, and -wait for it- more essays.


The question kept creeping up… was I happy?

I have been so caught up trying to live up to expectations that I lost focus of myself. Coming to the realization was the easy part, being able to have the guts to swerve was where I was struggling. No matter how unhappy I was, I did not change anything. I have always been a box checker, I set goals, and stick to them no matter what sacrifices I had to make. I kept going to school and even started to work more at an internship that no longer challenged me. All I could think about was having a study delay and not graduating on schedule. I completely ignored everything my body was telling me and just kept pushing myself. To me, stopping meant failure, and I was not a failure. I did not burn out because I was overworked, I burned out due to the fact that I convinced myself that being unhappy was the sacrifice I had to make in order to reach my goal.


One night, just like Michelle, I called my mother and told her how unhappy I was, and that I was going through a burnout. I told her that I adored teaching, however, I no longer felt challenged at school; I couldn’t even get myself to do the assignments, let alone pass them, and that I was unsure of what was going to happen. As I was about to break out in tears she asked me one simple question. My mother asked me “what’s the rush?”, and it is at this moment that I realized that the only thing that kept me from swerving was myself. All the deadlines that I set for myself and the expectations that I was trying to live up to did not exist. My parents were already proud of what I have achieved and having study delay would not take that away.


It was at this moment that I decided that I was going to risk it all and swerve. I still have goals that I want to reach, however, I'm going to do it my way. This might go against societal norms, but look at Michelle Obama, she swerved and eventually became a published author of a best-seller. I am still going through a burn out at the moment, and still, struggle to get myself to write or do my assignments. However, I started to change little things in my “routines” to keep me excited and started to let the people around me know what I was going through. This has provided me with a support system for a faster recovery. One must face hardships in order to evolve I will not let the burn-out define who I am, but instead, take this weakness and use it as a tool to strengthen myself.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views of Phryme Magazine.