You'd think that a place as rife with opportunities as Penn would give you unyielding positivity. That is, until you experience burnout.
I distinctly remember feeling a sense of almost indestructible energy when I arrived at Penn. I thought I could conquer almost any class and be extremely active on campus without stretching myself thin. Burnout is a feeling of shutting down. Your motivation levels plummet. Even when you get past the work that you had trouble doing, it’s not the same. Your desire to learn more is almost nil.
I experienced a troublesome case of burnout in October of last year when I was juggling difficult classes that had midterms around the same time, fencing practice, and writing a column. It’s not like I hadn’t taken on multiple activities before. I stopped blocking out the negativity around me. I became so preoccupied with everything going on in my life that I forgot to realize two things: that I had signed up to be busy and that I should have been grateful for what I had. Ultimately, I was in such a frenzy that I crashed.
Even though my bout with burnout only lasted around two and a half weeks, it was definitely one of the more unpleasant aspects of my college experience thus far.
Burnout is as relevant to Penn students as it is for students at almost any other university. The allure of learning as much as you can for the sake of intellectual improvement while balancing multiple extracurricular activities, applying to internships, and maintaining robust friendships and relationships can become overwhelming and fade away as quickly as it arrived. We become hopeless. Instead of reveling in the tricky balancing act that is college, we throw all of our responsibilities away entirely.
What makes the phenomenon of burnout so unique to Penn is the odd, contradictory combination of go-getter and cynic embodied by so many Penn students. We perk up at any pre-professional opportunity that Penn has to offer, yet we never hesitate to point out this rampant pre-professionalism as a supposed fault of Penn and its students.
Often, it is Penn’s alleged strengths that we perceive as its faults.
We think about how everyone at that one info session was such a “sellout.” Or how everyone in our chemistry class is so cutthroat. Or how Penn fosters a culture of exclusivity with its clubs and Greek life. Though I enjoy the memes and some of the other banter about Penn and its reptilian student body, I sometimes forget that Penn has so much to offer.
While some of these critiques are valid, they shouldn’t compromise your entire experience here. They might, though, if you give into the Penn phenomenon of constantly complaining about what you signed up for.
You signed up to be with some of the most brilliant, forward-thinking minds in the world. So why do you think you should just give up?
Maybe it’s because any more. Or maybe it’s because it takes a lot less energy to have a pessimistic worldview when you experience or witness the problems around you. After a while, pessimism can become so complete that everything you look at is tainted by negativity. The moment when you let that negativity wash over you is when you experience burnout.
This strange mixture of competitiveness and aggressive pessimism reminds me of “groupthink” in George Orwell’s . We can’t help but give in to it. It takes over our minds so fully that we can't help but shut down. We embrace “the grind,” go to as many networking events as we can fit into our schedules, and yet we still muster up the energy to be bitter and insecure. The time we spend being bitter makes us burn out.
Fortunately, burnout goes away. No need to be bitter about that.