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Reflections on Burnout

Since my "Balancing Time" blog post, I have not gotten my life together better. Rather, I believe I have been spiraling down an even steeper hole in trying to do even more things at once. To put simply, these past months have been one of the most exhaustive but eye-opening months of my life, and I wish to reflect on it now that I have a little time. 
The biggest paradigm shift I have had is in my view towards academia, as something not as prioritized in my life as self-development, extracurriculars, or finding a career path. Excelling in school has always been one of my biggest pride points, something I always had control of and something that never worried my parents (unlike my Counter-Strike addiction). This semester I've struggled much more than any semester before even with arguably more interesting classes, although I have done a good job keeping my cool despite exam outcomes. However, I don't want to forget the words of my friend Nathan - don't mistake "not beating yourself up over a bad outcome" with complacency. Just because I've emotionally detached myself from score outcomes doesn't imply I shouldn't strive to improve and be more enthusiastic about the subject manner.

In extracurriculars, I've been in much bigger roles that require more responsibility, from being the concertmaster of my club orchestra to teaching on a course staff position in teaching the largest class on campus. I've been doing a good job with attendance and performing my duties for each role, but not much beyond that. I've felt that my enthusiasm as a teacher has diminished, and I do much less outside of required hours than I did last year as a mentor in CSM. Office hours and review sections interest me a lot less than teaching content to a small discussion section, I guess. I tried creating my own course content guides and even posted it in the course staff group chat, but no one seemed to have feedback. I want to be a teaching assistant as quickly as possible, but it doesn't seem like it'll happen within the next semester.

Thus I was really excited to come home early for Thanksgiving - to finally catch up on lectures, work out and eat healthily, start a new project, and do some recreational reading. Three full days later, I have not done shit besides watching too many YouTube videos and playing video games with my old friends. This is something I'm really not proud of and is what spurred me to write this post. I concede that not having to think for the past few days have been a nice change of pace, but I fell into my comfort zone too fast and drained my motivation to actually work.

I believe this stagnation of action came from aiming to do too many things at once. I got so excited to be able to do so many things again and further my goals, that I ended up not knowing exactly what to start with and not doing anything at all. Thus I am setting a straightforward goal of just two things for (at least) the rest of the week - to turn off electronics and sleep before midnight, reflect on my day objectively before sleeping and remembering my privileges among the people around the world upon waking up.

I am going to Los Angeles to hang out with friends tomorrow until the conclusion of Thanksgiving break. While this brings further stagnation to my original plans for the break, I never regret socializing, making memories with old and new friends, or traveling outside my home. In the bigger picture, I value the people around me more than anything else and will always choose adventure over disciplined studying if I can afford to.

On a grander note, despite the hecticness of the semester, I'm really excited about a summer opportunity to travel to Ethiopia to be a computer science teaching assistant for some of the brightest high school minds in the country. It satisfies my two major goals in life - to make deep relationships with people of diverse backgrounds and to travel the world outside of the US and China (little did I know Africa would be first on that list!). The program is founded by the legendary Jelani Nelson himself, a former Harvard professor whose research work has been frequently cited and is extremely accomplished for his young age. He is teaching CS 170: Algorithms (which despite kicking my ass, may be my favorite class at Berkeley) next semester, and I hope to be able to be a Reader for the course so I can revisit the material again with new lens and see his teaching style firsthand before the summer.

Ideally, I'd also have an internship opportunity before traveling out of the country this summer, for industry experience and determining whether or not I see software engineering as an interesting career path. I've put in a lot more time this year actively applying and reaching out to recruiters, but slow response times and minimal feedback is always frustrating. I'm still conflicted between gunning for large brand tech companies that will provide me wider and easier opportunities for the future or for startups that I'll play much larger roles in and will hone my skills better, but that's a topic for another blog.

Overall, all these jumbled thoughts contributed to why I've been burning out but also why these past months have been essential for growth. I thrive on uncertainty and spontaneity; structure and routine are boring anyway. Be patient, Owen, you know you're on your way.


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