Help me juggle school and work before I wither away!
December 2, 2006 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Help me reduce the stress before I melt!

I am currently 17, in my last year of high school in the IB Diploma Programme with University applications very, very imminent (they're due in January).

As it is, I tutor a few people before school, a total of maybe three or four mornings a week, and once at Lunch. Mondays after school I'm part of a French Club where people get together and just speak French to help others improve their oral French. Tuesdays after school I'm part of a Samba band. Monday and Wednesdays at lunch the Trivia Team has practice.

I also work two jobs. (Yeah, I know, bear with me.) The bookstore often gets me to work Wednesdays, till closing. Then I usually have a Saturday or Sunday shift that's about 5-6 hours. 10 hours is usual, the max I gave them is 15. On top of that, I'm an assitant teacher of sorts at a Saturday Language School every saturday for 3.5 hours. The commute sucks.

While my grades this trimester were decent, they only clear the cutoff of the program I want at Queen's at Kingston, Ontario by a bit more than a point. It's usual for my grades to shoot up second and third trimester, but I'm stressed to a point of wanting to cry, regularly. I average about 5 hours of sleep, on the good days.

I've already told my French teacher that I'm quitting the French Club after Christmas and handing over any responsibility to two other helpers who seemed interested. (I started the club last year.) I'm most likely going to quit Samba after Christmas because it'll have served its purpose in terms of IB requirements (long story).

But the thing is, as it is, that doesn't cut down a lot of my extracurriculars. My contract with the bookstore finishes mid-January (I'm hoping they'll renew it) and my agreement with the German school was that I work till the end of the schoolyear. I like the bookstore job more, but it pays a bit less by the hour and wants more hours, which in turn makes my parents criticise me at every turn. The teacher job pays a bit more, has regular, predictable hours, makes my parents happy, but I really really dread going there every Saturday morning.

To make it EVEN more complicated, I have a ridiculous complex of quitting anything. If I quit something, it basically means I couldn't handle it, and therefore failed at it. This means that if I quit anything and my stress doesn't let up/my mindset/mood/depression/whatever doesn't get better, I'll essentially be angry at myself for a very long time.

My choices are to suck it up, quit German (wherein the problem is if the bookstore doesn't renew my contract, I'll be out of an income for the rest of the year - I'm trying to actually save up for University), stick it out till January and just not accept a renewal even if they give me one (but but but...) or quit both jobs. Though quitting German seems appealing. it's not very secure... and I really don't see any other way out. What do I do?
posted by Phire to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My advice is from a "teach a man to fish" perspective rather than giving specific advice about which activities you should drop.

While it sounds like you're a very bright individual with much potential, it does sound like you're at risk of burning out. I love your drive and commitment, and those qualities alone will take you very, very far in life. Qualities like that, however, reach their peak at some point and then start working against you. Case in point, you said yourself that your commitment is becoming pathological in that you feel like a failure if you quit something, perhaps even if it is something that is no longer providing you with rewards or is even working against you.

You are at risk for burnout, and that's not good at your young age! You are at risk for developing depression or an anxiety disorder, a drug or alcohol problem, high blood pressure, ulcers, relationship problems, the list goes on and on.

Put it this way: if you want to achieve your highest potential, and it sounds like you're driven to do just that, you must take care of yourself physically and emotionally. You must stop burning the candle at both ends. You can't possibly reach the sky in any one area if you've got a million projects going on at once. Please, tell yourself that it's okay not to be able to "handle" so many commitments. You're putting your eggs in one basket when you define your self-worth so narrowly. When you're overloaded and you drop an activity, it frees you up to excel in another.

Okay, lecture over. Good luck at university. The sky is the limit, but you HAVE to take care of yourself.
posted by forensicphd at 5:48 AM on December 2, 2006

I was pretty much in the same situation last year, trying to do work + school + social life + more work. My advice: Don't continue like this. It's really not good for you. Like forensicphd says, take care of yourself.

What saved me was figuring out that my employers needed me as much, or even more, than I needed them. You have two jobs, where you probably should have only one. That works in your favor.

Here's one thing you could do: Explain your situation to the bookstore. You need to quit one of your jobs. You would like the to quit the teahing job, but you need to renew your contract with them, the bookstore, to do that. Worst case scenario for you is that you get to know that the contract wont be renewed. Worst case scenario for the bookstore is you quitting on the spot.

As long as both your employers want you to keep working for them, you have plenty room to negotiate. And since you're young, chances are you're underpaid. Say the bookstore wants to renew your contract. Then you could figure out just how much money you need to keep the job at the school, and then go and ask for it. Salary negotiation wont be fun, but it wont hurt either, since you don't really need that job in the first place. Just remember to not be an ass while you're doing this, be polite, and you'll be fine.
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral at 6:32 AM on December 2, 2006

While seconding the burnout risk, I'd like to add a few points I wish someone had told me when I was 17, attending IB and struggling on choosing what to do with the rest of my life.

First of all, do yourself a favor and try to imagine your dream future.. Of all the things you are involved in today, which one(s) interest you the most in a way that you could picture yourself doing the rest of your life? What many of us IBers experienced was that we tended to choose our paths in life out from what we were good at, not from what we truly found interesting.

It sounds as though you've got your CAS activities covered, so my next suggestion would be to actively try to become a bit more egoistic -- the last semester should be about you fine-tuning your exam skillz by practising old exams again and again until you have a few speciality topics covered (esp in subjects with a huge curriculum like History -- you will benefit from specialising in some of the periods which come up time after time on mocks).

When you have started thinking about yourself, try to find the extracurricular activities which complement what you really would like to do. If you foresee a future within languages and/or tutoring, skip the bookstore and give the teaching your all. If you rather think that bookstores/litterature/business would give you valuable experience, forget the tutoring and try to save some bookstore money for college.

Being horrible at quitting stuff is something you just need to get over. Handing off a project you have started will be an emotional experience, but you will not be able to follow up these projects the rest of your life, and quitting while on top does not -- and I think I should repeat that, NOT -- mean that you can't handle it. It just means that you have to free up some time to fit your current portfolio of interests combined with the levers you need to build to get further in life. Handing over projects creates a legacy, and it may be that others can devote more time to something which would take what you have created to somehting even more fantastic.

Last but not least --- try very hard to make yourself believe that no matter what you choose, what school you are able to get into, what projects you choose to proceed with and which ones to drop, the impact on your ability to pick your own destiny will be miniscule. Strike all the activities you find to be necessary to keep your dream in sight, and don't worry if you make some wrong choices. Making choices, especially wrong ones, is a very important part of growing up and is one of the things it is very difficult to learn from reading. If you have a vision, it will keep you an a general course towards your future, even if you pick less-than-optimal paths to get there. Your parents may have some good points, but if you feel confident about what you choose for yourself, they will support you 100%.

Oh, and the sky is not the limit. You'll reach the sky on autopilot if you just ensure that you'll not burn out. Aim for the stars and beyond, and you just might get there.
posted by jonmartin at 6:50 AM on December 2, 2006

First, you need to tell your parents that it's your future and your stress, not theirs. Will it provoke a fight? Perhaps. But if quitting teaching German is such a bad thing to them - if they can't see that the larger problem of you heading toward burnout would make life even worse than the upset you quitting the teaching job would cause - then they need to be reminded of this.

They're saddling you with a huge amount of undue pressure, and when they went to high school, life was probably much, much different for them; that's the frame of reference they're coming from when they think about your life - it's not the hyper-competitive world that you're living in, but a simulacrum (there's a word for your IB A1 language test, if that A1 language is English) of their own idealized experience that takes place inside the building they see when they stop in the few times a year they spend more than ten minutes at your school.

To address your failure-related fears, I would include your participation in all your programs/activities/clubs, with expected completion dates, on your applications. That way, you get the freedom to write "French Conversation Club Person, 200x-200y" without lying to the university about your continued participation - something that I imagine won't escape them; if they see a bunch of IB-prep classes on your class schedule and report cards, then I think they'll understand that you want to take a little time off. Universities do have real people who read your application, so do know that someone will make this connection.

Finally, and I can say this as a fellow IB Diploma earner: you need to take time to relax enough to embrace the critical-thinking side of the diploma-necessary tasks, from exams to projects to presentations. So much of the exam portions of the assessments are about how convincing and complete you can be on the day of the exam itself, not how much you can cram. So come late April, reflect on what you've learned for the year, start getting plenty of sleep, get in the habit of eating foods which doesn't make your energy levels crash an hour after ingesting them, and give yourself some time out - I went kayaking with a friend for a few hours the weekend between my school's two weeks of tests and felt rejuvenated for the second set.

Furthermore, your IB advisor will probably have set you up with a dry run of some sample questions before the tests, so you'll have some idea of the level of study required to achieve what you want. Remember, you only need a 4 in the 6 subjects to get the diploma (right?) - anything beyond that, unless your university of choice is offering a shorter path to graduation for higher scores in certain subjects (related to your degree, perhaps?, isn't really necessary.

Oh, and PS, unless you end up at the most amazing university ever, your IB experience will pay the richest of dividends when you're the only person in class who knows what the professor is talking about. It's really, really good preparation for university, and it made my first year sooooo much easier alrady knowing how to write critical essays, do academic research, and sift through the fluff in subjects to get to the real kernels of truth buried in the reading list.

E-mail in the profile if you have more questions...good luck!
posted by mdonley at 7:05 AM on December 2, 2006

Maybe quit the German thing. You're 17, what's the big deal if you're out of work for a month (assuming the book store doesn't renew)? I mean, you say it's not very secure, but really it still is. You can afford to not work a little bit; you'll still have a home.

You're just going to need to prune things down until they feel achievable.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 9:00 AM on December 2, 2006

This is the problem:

To make it EVEN more complicated, I have a ridiculous complex of quitting anything. If I quit something, it basically means I couldn't handle it, and therefore failed at it. This means that if I quit anything and my stress doesn't let up/my mindset/mood/depression/whatever doesn't get better, I'll essentially be angry at myself for a very long time.

If it's really this hard for you to quit things, see a counselor who can help put it in perspective. Things seem far more important now, to you, than they really are. Whether you had a job or not when you are in high school will not matter in a few years. I felt I couldn't quit my job when I was a teenager, too. I wish I hadn't cared so much.

The idea that you have merit only if you're constantly busy doing a bunch of things, is a cause of much stress and heartache. Ask yourself why you feel you need to be involved in all this stuff.
posted by jayder at 9:38 AM on December 2, 2006

Oh, wow, the magic of being 17 and just bursting out into the world! Your life is about to expand dramatically, make the most of it . Don't let yourself be held back by walls you can easily break through. Pick up a battleaxe and start swinging! Slash at your commitments, hit some of your old ways of thinking on the head. (No need to swing too hard at the parents -- you are growing up and away anyway.)

I am with your parents in thinking the teaching job has more long-term usefulness than the bookshop, and with cheerleaders_to_your_funeral that you should try and negotiate a better deal Tell the school and your parents what you hate about it. Could the commute be changed? Start later/get a ride/....? Could the school give your teaching more support? Could they remove/discipline troublemakers? Will they help you get some teaching on how to teach? -- a useful investment in something that will be a more interesting way to work your way through university than shop work. If you assist another teacher who adds to the dread, ask for a swap "for wider experience".

Work on getting your private-tutoring people to stand on their own feet long before your exams. You could start now giving them stuff to do between seeing you only half as often.

The sleep problem doesn't sound good -- go on the attack about that too. Figure out what works for you now, before exam pressure kicks in.

Good luck, have fun.
posted by Idcoytco at 10:36 AM on December 2, 2006

If you "really really dread" the German teaching post this can't be a good pattern to get into ... I think cheerleaders_to_your_funeral's suggestion of discussing the job situation with the bookshop with the aim of getting them to renew your contract now, and possibly increasing your pay, is a great idea, but it still leaves you with a lot on, and you sound a bit desperate.

You say you are hoping to save for university - is this essential money, or for extras? My student experience was that holiday earnings didn't make a huge amount of difference to how broke I felt during the term. I thnk it's worth considering giving up both jobs fairly soon into the new year, before exam pressure really kicks in. (Caveat: I know very little about the IB system.)

It's also worth looking at how much time you are managing to find to spend on purely pleasurable things - friends, walks, reading, whatever de-stresses you. You're clearly good at analysing your situation - don't forget to include down-time.

Best of luck.
posted by paduasoy at 12:34 PM on December 2, 2006

I'm 17 and in IB right now, so I know what you're going through. Although honestly, I can't imagine working two jobs while keeping up with my schoolwork plus extracurriculars. I've been having the same problems as you, especially with the sleeping. I've started to realize that in the end, my health and state of mind should come before everything else. IB encourages you to stay busy, busy, busy, but that's not always possible. Sometimes, you have to tell people no and let things go. Remember that no one's going to hate you if you stop doing some of your activities. Quit the German thing. If it makes you miserable, you shouldn't do it. Don't let your parents pressure you into bad decisions. You didn't mention it in your post, but a lot of people I know are freaking out about being desirable enough to colleges. I don't know about the situation in Canada, but in the US it seems like colleges (or at least the colleges most IB people want to go to) won't even look at you unless you're exceptional, with 14 different group memberships and a side job tutoring disadvantaged teenage crack addicts as well as being a star tennis player. If you don't need extracurriculars for anything other than CAS, cut back. You don't want to burn out before you even go to college. High school is supremely unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and getting into a good college isn't a sure track to success. Focus on living your life the way you want to live it, not the way you're "supposed" to. Good luck.
posted by MadamM at 3:18 PM on December 2, 2006

Hey, I have no specific advice for you on what things you should cut to make your life manageable, but I do have a few words on the quitting thing. I totally used to be that way-in my whole four years of college, I dropped only one class, and it wasn't easy for me. I had a lot of trouble making the decision to do it, as it meant I would also be dropping my second major. But it was totally teh right decision, and I'm really glad I made it. I recently went through a similar experience-I'm in my first year of grad school, and I'd come to realize that I needed to change my project. I was really bummed about this, because I really like and respect my old advisor, but just came to realize that my interests had changed. I didn't want to disappoint her, but it, again, was a thing that needed to be done.

So I suggest that you realize first, that quitting doesn't mean you couldn't handle something, it means a change needed to be made. You'll know, in your gut when you need to make a decision like that, and when you do, just do it. Realize that it might suck, short term, but it won't suck as much as your health will if you finish this entire year sleeping four hours per night.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 5:38 PM on December 2, 2006

You are going to be an adult soon. Being an adult means planning responsibly and working within your limits.

Even we super-geniuses have limits. Recognizing them and responding appropriately is much smarter than trying to "tough it out" until you make yourself ill from stress. This is one of the biggest things one learns as one makes the transition to university.

It's time for you to start selectively saying "no" to things. From what you've said here, you already know this -- you cannot sustain your current load. What things will you cut back? In deciding, think about which extracurriculars hold your interest and fill you with energy. Chop the ones that suck your energy and don't give you something worthwhile in return.

How much do you need to cut back? I would suggest making it non-negotiable that you will average 7 hours of sleep on weeknights, and eat at least one real sit-down meal, made of actual nourishing food, a day. (You can aim for more sleep and more good food, but the 7 hours and one real meal are absolutely non-negotiable.) Then work back from there. Which things can you chop or reduce in your schedule, to meet those two basic physical needs?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:59 PM on December 2, 2006

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