Real Talk: Parental Expectations, Burnout, and Time Blindness

How to deal with parental expectations and guilt? My parents want me to go to law school, but I’ve always wanted to pursue a PhD in my undergraduate field. They paid for my education and I just don’t want them to be disappointed in me. 

The period of young adulthood is one of the most difficult to navigate, particularly in understanding your level of independence from your parents. I still have moments where I have to ask my mom for advice first, and she lives states away! Parents have a deeply ingrained impact on us, no matter what stage in life we’re in. 

However, that doesn’t mean that you should make life-altering decisions based solely on their input. The unique thing about college is that it’s a time where you can set yourself up to develop skills that will be extended throughout your whole career. In high school, it was about passing a test to get your diploma. In college, you’re opening doors for yourself that may impact the next decades of your life. 

That being said, this is a situation where you need to make the decision that has the best long-term impact on yourself, not your parents. Your parents may have paid for your education, but they were investing in you, not the degree you’re pursuing. You are capable of so many things and can pursue so many passions and options that make you happy in the long run! 

When considering your future, my perspective is this: ask your parents for input and advice, but you have the final say in the educational path you choose to pursue. Your parents love and support you regardless of whether or not you’re going to be a lawyer. If your desires and their expectations don’t align, that’s okay! It may be difficult for you and your parents to have the conversation about your path, but they can also provide you with insight that you may not have considered. 

Bottom line: you’re making it through college! That’s a major accomplishment, and I guarantee your parents are incredibly proud of you for pushing through. My mom had to watch me make seven major changes in my undergrad while paying the bill. She has provided so much support for me along the way (financially and emotionally), but she has been happy for me through each and every program, because I’m confident in the choices and transitions I’ve made. If you’re confident in pursuing that PhD and your parents can see that, they will be proud and happy that you are pursuing your passions! 

I’m experiencing burnout and I’m worried I’m near a breaking point. Even basic and simple tasks seem so difficult right now. I want to take a semester off, but I’m worried I’ll just be delaying everything further down the line.

Burnout is a very real and valid experience to deal with – it can impair your daily life at every level. For me, once I start experiencing physical symptoms of burnout (like fatigue no matter how much I sleep, trouble digesting, etc.), it’s a sign that my brain is telling me to take a break. 

Taking a semester off is a big decision to make. I’d recommend considering how long you’ve been experiencing the burnout. If it’s rolling over from last spring semester (so you were experiencing burnout throughout the summer without improvement), it sounds like taking a break may be a good idea. School may be causing you a level of stress below the surface of needing to meet deadlines and intaking loads of information at once. Here, I’d suggest taking some time to reflect on if your current major is the right path for you, and if there are any changes you feel like you could make in the short term to make each day a little easier. This may be a more gradual change, but you’d likely see slow improvement if the habits you’re creating for yourself are beneficial to you. If you still are struggling, it sounds like taking that time off would be effective for you. 

On the other hand, if the burnout started this semester, I’d say to continue to push through! At UB, we have a new fall break in October. See if you can keep yourself on track until then, and take the October break to practice some self-care and find ways that you can improve your experience and prevent burnout for the rest of the semester. UB also has Wellness Coaches available that you may find helpful if you’re struggling to find habits that are helping you out. 

Finally, if you do choose to take the semester off, it is important (and I cannot stress this enough) to have a plan for that time. Many students who take a semester off crash, and then struggle to engage with academia again, and may drop out for good. Even though you don’t have classes, do your best to maintain some level of routine in your day. Focus on self-care and improvement – if you have a job, try to have a consistent work schedule. It’s incredibly tempting to spend the time off sleeping in and lounging around, but that will make it extremely difficult to transition back into college life if you choose to return. 

I hope this advice was helpful! I’ve experienced burnout many times myself (at least once a semester), and I definitely understand how hard it makes every little thing around you. 

I’ve been made aware that my friends consider my tardiness inconsiderate. I’ll admit I’m disorganized and bad at time management, but it hurts that they think I don’t care about them. I have always struggled with time perception, and I am truly not trying to disrespect them. I’m not sure what to say. 

As someone with a partner who tends to forget to look at his watch, I can empathize with your friends. However, in trying to understand my partner’s reasoning behind the difficulty in time management, I can also empathize with your experience. 

On the receiving end, this is something to consider. Let’s say you and I have plans to go out somewhere. It takes time for me to prepare for that event. I have to get ready, I may have to drive to the location or navigate somewhere new, and I do my best to complete all of those tasks in a certain time frame to be respectful of you. So when you show up late, that’s really discouraging to me. If it becomes a consistent pattern, I feel like my time isn’t valuable to you. Remember: while you’re running late and getting ready, I’ve gone through that process and am having to wait for you on top of that. It comes off disrespectful primarily because I went through the effort of being timely for you, and you couldn’t reciprocate that. It truly has nothing to do with your personality or character; but it doesn’t make me feel like you value your time for me. 

I’m assuming that’s the perspective your friends are experiencing. However, I do understand that some people really do struggle with managing time, particularly regarding social events. Things may slip your mind, and you may be so focused on getting ready that you lose track of time. It happens… but it’s also something you can control. Maybe it’s setting alarms for each task; for example, you need to be out of the shower in 15 minutes in order to arrive punctually. I think you’ll find that working to discover a strategy that enables you to be more timely reduces the conflict. 

This can be a gradual process, though. In the short term, I’d recommend practicing communicating with your friends about your time management. Does your GPS say you’ll be five minutes late? Let them know. You got out of the shower late and will be 15 minutes behind? Let them know. Communicating reminds them that you value their time and the relationship, even if you may not be on time. I know it may feel like an extra step in the process, but I promise that your friends will find it considerate. 

Implementing strategies to help your punctuality and time management, as well as maintaining regular communication if you’re late, should make a positive impact on the relationship between you and your friends. If you truly work towards improving upon that, they will be understanding if they know that you’re trying your best. Plus, you’ll feel more relieved and less flustered if you arrive on time! You can focus on being in the moment, rather than feeling like you need to “catch up.” I hope this helps!