Opinion | Giving up is kinda the vibe

By Paige Wasserman, For The Pitt News

In the song “Nothing New,” Taylor Swift sings, “How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22?” And oh my god, is that not the most poignant thing in the world.

When I graduated from high school in 2018, I was ready to begin my theater degree at Northwestern, star in every production, graduate with honors and head right to Broadway. A transfer, nine-month “gap year,” pandemic and many therapy sessions later, I don’t even want to act professionally anymore.

Maybe you’re considering a new path, too. You might be on the fence about dropping some  grueling or unfulfilling track. Perhaps you’re considering transferring or even dropping out. But something is holding you back. In this column, I give you permission to give up. Do it. Give up. You owe it to your peace of mind.

With all the tailgates, frat parties and classes, we seldom sit down to remind ourselves how much profound and terrifying change we are experiencing. Leaving what is often the cushiness of your parents’ home for independent living is really jarring. Also, the average age of onset for addiction, personality disorders, depression and anxiety is about 20 years old.

Between your changing mind, new living situation, more intense studies and a slew of new and potentially traumatic experiences, you’re going through a lot right now. Not to mention, your frontal lobe is continuing to develop, so you may be approaching big decisions more pragmatically.

Your mind is literally changing. Give yourself some grace.

A 2020 survey showed that nearly 40% of college students experience depression, and one-third of college students experience anxiety. That being said, those who are not struggling with their mental health are sometimes loud about how well they’re doing, and even those who are struggling like to project that they’re doing just fine. It’s a supremely obnoxious phenomenon I call The Masochist Olympics.

“I’ve been so busy I forgot to eat!” “I didn’t sleep last night because I stayed up studying.” And for some reason, people think this is a flex. Newsflash — these people are not more successful than you for torturing themselves. If anything, they’re failing to strike a healthy balance in their lives. You know what happens when you torture yourself? Your passion dissolves. You get burnt out.

Let’s say you’re pre-med and hate it. You’re depressed and find no joy in studying and working. If you’re miserable doing the work now, you’re going to be even more miserable later! Plus, you will have spent all those years in school and in residency paying offensively high tuition only to hate it. If anything, undergrad is the best time to decide to give up on med school or whatever else isn’t satisfying your wants and needs. It’ll save you a lot of time, money and stress.

You can also give up now and return to your dreams later! The first couple years of college are a crash course — emphasis on the crash.

Personally, I was far from home with multiple undiagnosed mental illnesses, and a little fish in a pond of 400 other ridiculously talented theater students. It was a perfect storm of awful and, inevitably, it landed me in the worst mental and emotional health of my life.

But I could probably conquer the vigor of my old program now that I’m healthier and better supported. That being said, maybe right now isn’t your time. You can take care of yourself and come back to work when you’re ready. I’m graduating college at 23, and am not ashamed of that. Whoever taught you that you have to graduate in three to four years and cartwheel straight into a dream job and a newly renovated West Village apartment with in-unit laundry needs to, respectfully, be slapped.

It’s also important to ask yourself, “Who is this for if not for me?” Are you trying to one-up your siblings? Are you trying to impress people from your high school? I have news for you. Everyone from high school has unfollowed you on Instagram. I know this because the day I graduated high school, I unfollowed about 200 people.

So now you’ve decided to give up. What’s next? When I was battling depression in the wake of my previous schooling, I went into an intensive outpatient program. In my individual therapy session, my therapist showed me this worksheet that discusses life values. It is a strategy in dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, that helps you identify your purpose and set suitable goals.

Maybe you value your interpersonal relationships. Maybe you value being part of a community. Whatever it is, any of these life values are perfectly acceptable. You don’t need to be the first doctor-lawyer-astronaut-activist-actor nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Being unambitious is not a moral failing. You can literally just be someone in sales who hangs out and has a life outside work.

So you’ve given up. Now what’s next? I think my greatest advice is this: What work makes you love yourself? What makes you feel smart? What makes you feel invigorated? For me, it was always writing. I always felt good when I wrote a sentence and liked how it sounded. That always felt better to me than performing. Which is why, now, I meet with my lovely editors and write my silly little columns that you all hopefully enjoy. And you know what? I feel good.

Just please, do something that brings you joy. When people love what they do, they do better. And when one person does better, their family does better, their friends do better and the people they serve do better. I think the world would be a better place if everyone did what they loved.

Paige Wasserman (she/her) writes about the arts, pop culture, campus culture and things that make her want to scream. You can reach her at [email protected].