April 28, 2022

BEARD | Burnt Out From Mediocrity 

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As the semester wraps up and exams loom on the horizon, for many of us, our objective has become simply surviving. Burnt out from weeks of classes and assignments, many Cornellians have adopted the role of the “gray man,” clocking into class and clocking out their brains. But survival is average — it’s what we do every day, merely getting by. As the days get warmer and we stretch into May, I have a challenge for everyone: find a “why” in these last few weeks. Find a reason to rise above mediocrity and try to be great rather than merely survive. 

I’m not encouraging overdoing oneself or putting your nose to the grindstone merely for the sake of it. In this season of stress, prioritizing well-being and mental health is more important than ever. At the same time, though, seeing the finish line and retreating into yourself like a turtle into its shell isn’t a recipe for self-care, either. Which is why, with three weeks to go, I say to you: find something to be passionate about. If your energy and desire to do good can be channeled into a thing that you care for, then the dogma of the bare minimum may be broken. 

Let me elaborate on this. This spring, I had a midterm performance evaluation that determined whether or not I could continue to receive a scholarship that I’ve had since my freshman year. For the three semesters prior, I worked my butt off, paid attention to every detail, showed up motivated and learned everything I could. This March, the evaluation came around and sure enough, my hard work paid off. I retained my scholarship and continued in the program. After that though, my performance fell off and I started to dread our meetings instead, just wishing them to be over. My motivation went from working to prove myself to surviving and completing the scholarship obligations.

Recently, I had a routine meeting with the coordinator for the scholarship and they remarked something to the effect of “we’ve noticed the drop-off.” They mentioned that prior to the evaluation, it seemed as if I woke up with my “why” written on my bathroom mirror. In other words, there was something that made me rise above mediocrity in this sense. The mediocrity which I slipped into after the milestone evaluation had left me listless and indifferent. My newly adopted survivalist attitude went hand-in-hand with day-to-day irritation and apathy towards my job. It was a funk that I hadn’t even noticed until my supervisor mentioned it. I needed an attitude readjustment.

As I’ve learned from this, sometimes we need a reboot in our lives. Approaching the end of the spring semester, the wheels may start to feel like they’re coming off. Papers will pile up. Deadlines will seem to gang up on you and finals won’t be any friendlier. At this point, the temptation may be to just hold on. But survival and mediocrity are bedfellows, and if there’s anything I’ve learned, just getting by and overworking are merely opposite ends of the same burnout spectrum. 

So look for your reason on your mirror. Find something to ground you firmly here in this moment for the next three weeks. It could be making the most of your last moments in Ithaca if you’re a senior. Maybe it’s creating lasting memories with your dorm-mates as a first-year, or realizing that you’re here to learn and getting what you can from the final two weeks of instruction. Regardless, with the end in sight, don’t be a survivalist. Find what motivates you to be above average, lock it in, and write it on your mirror — otherwise, you may find yourself burnt out either way.

Brenner Beard (he/him) is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected]. Agree to Disagree runs every other Friday this semester.