Junior year is hard. You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again, and soon, you’ll be saying it yourself. I just came out of it alive, as a student at Westlake High. Here are my two cents on junior year survival.
1. Treat your time like money.
So what if 1 minute = $1?A physics worksheet costs 30 minutes, or $30. APUSH reading takes an hour, or $60. Let’s say your school day runs from 8:50-4:10, and each period is 50 minutes; when you get home, you have activities, dinner, etc. So at school, when you get a free period, it’s a free $50. When you have 5 free minutes at the end of every period, that’s a free $5. So let’s say that one day, you have one free period and 5 free minutes each period. You end up with $85. You can finish physics AND most of your APUSH reading before you even come home. If you treat minutes like dollars, stockpiling every spare one, you can spend them wisely to get maximum work done.
Before you say, “That sounds so unhealthy!!!”—think about this. It’s 100% healthy to spend money on things you like, right? To splurge on things you don’t ‘need’ but are good for you as a person? If you’re able to save bits of ‘money’ during the day to chip away at (and complete) blocks of work, you free up large amounts of time later to spend all at once. Watch a Netflix show. Hang out with friends. Instead of buying tons of teeny gifts for yourself (e.g. stickers, notepads, $1 toys… i.e. checking Instagram obsessively, Snapping obsessively…), save up some of those dollars/minutes to buy yourself something good (e.g. a new iPhone, new shoes/clothes… i.e. go out to a movie with friends, read a book, watch Netflix).
What often happens instead is we do both—waste precious free time at school, AND spend large blocks of free time outside of school playing. Then we can neglect our schoolwork, or, most commonly, sleep progressively later. Late sleep makes us less productive during the day, forcing us to sleep even later, propagating a lovely cycle of lost productivity. Instead, my point is that it’s helpful to treat your time as valuable, and spend it wisely. Learn to find a balance between stockpiling it to spend on schoolwork, and using small bits to relax yourself.
Which leads us to…
It deserves a bullet of its own. So, here’s my experience. 1st semester, I got a consistent 7 hours of sleep every day. I felt fully functional every day and got everything I needed to get done, done, due to my use of bullet point 1. 2nd semester, my resolve deteriorated just a bit, as well as my time management, and I sometimes got 5 or 4 hours of sleep. IT FEELS BAD. Like, head-hit-by-truck bad. I fell asleep during Physics once, and missed half the lesson, and I never really understood rms velocity in thermo since. So please sleep. Sleep is probably the singular most important thing you can spend those dollars on. What I found works for me is going to sleep at 11pm and waking up at 5am or 6am to do stuff, because I work better in mornings. Find what works for you and don’t compromise. You are cooler than your friends because you’ll have a higher quality of life and also a functioning mind&body in 40 years.
3. Let go.
This was the hardest lesson for me to learn, and honestly, me telling you this isn’t going to help. It’s the kind of thing you can only fully learn through experience. But I’ll try to tell you anyway.
1st semester, I was so incredibly hard on myself that I full-on cried almost weekly. Every single thing I did, I felt, could make or break my chance at getting into some elite college. Every writing contest I didn’t win, every piano competition I failed at, every test/quiz I (not Asian) failed was a life-ender. Failure was my biggest fear and it hit me often.
Inevitably, you will fail during junior year. Please know this: it matters. It matters because it’s going to teach you to care about the important things, e.g. the way your brother greets you when you come home and the look of the sun at 6:30am and the fact that the earth keeps on rotating due to conservation of angular momentum. It matters because the more you fail, the more you learn resilience—the quicker you can pick yourself up and carry that bruise tenderly, as a reminder, but know that the capillaries will heal, and so keep throwing yourself at doors. It matters because failures make much better stories than successes, whether in college applications, conversations, or self-reflections. Maybe you’ve heard or believed something like, “Everyone can fail, but not everyone can succeed.” The truth is, “Everyone can fail, but not everyone can fail gracefully, repeatedly and productively.” Learn that failure matters, not because it’s going to ruin your life, but because it’s going to teach you to examine your convictions. Nothing else will do that.
Sometime during 2nd semester, I learned to stop caring. I put my soul into things like summer camp applications, UIL competitions, AP testing—but not my worth. And look at my unexpected almosts. Made it to the final round of TASP applications, got 2nd place at UIL State in Ready Writing, etc. By letting go of results and instead just investing in the process, I was so much more emotionally healthy and happy (if I’d gotten more sleep, it would have been an absolutely perfect semester). Someday, I’ll have some variety of success, but what I do is not who I’ll be, so I’m not afraid.
So be okay with failing, as soon as possible. Don’t obsess with college things—focus on learning, because I like to think that they care more about our unique failures than our constructed successes. Even if they don’t, who cares? Learn to say: “Not me.” Put your worth in the right places.
You’re going to learn incredible things about yourself during junior year because it’s probably going to be incredibly hard. You’re going to make it—don’t ever doubt you will. Remember that in a year, you’re going to be offering your own survival tips to the next incoming juniors. Remember, it’s going to be a year to remember.
Isabella – 6/24/17,