I’m writing this as I’m starting to notice some signs of burnout in myself. I also struggle with anxiety, so that’s a factor as well. Maybe I’ll go back through and edit this before you read it. Maybe I won’t. But what I certainly will not do is lie and add fluff to this. To do so would be an insult not only to myself and to my fellow classmates on this journey with me, but to all who are in graduate school or those who ever attended grad school.

I want to talk about what’s messy. I don’t want to talk about how lucky I am or how privileged I am to be able to say that I am a graduate student working towards my master’s degree. I know that. We all know that on some level. We are aware that we are an academic minority. We are aware that we are being afforded an opportunity to advance our education and our careers. We are aware that we are making our loved ones proud. We are aware that we are hard workers and that “it will all pay off someday”.

We do not discount that. We do not discount everything it took to get to where we are in our programs. We are fully aware, probably more than you are, that grad school is an amazing opportunity and we are growing so much as individuals.

And that is exactly what makes us feel immense pressure. Pressure to succeed. Pressure to be an effective student and counselor. Pressure to not let people down. Pressure to get that “A” and not look incompetent during that presentation. Pressure to not only make sure you’re keeping track of everything you do at all times, but also pressure that if you don’t cross every “t” and dot every “i”, you’re going to fail and it will be your fault.

They tell you that as graduate students, you will need to let go of your need to be perfect. And yet, they set these perfect expectations for you to meet in order to move forward. It’s something we’ve all experienced at one point or another.

And then the spiral starts – “How am I going to communicate my concerns and my doubts without sounding like I can’t handle the stress? What if I don’t speak up enough in class because I’m drained from the crisis intervention I facilitated just an hour ago? Are they going to think I’m incompetent? I’m definitely losing participation points. You parents are going to be so disappointed if you can’t make it this weekend because you have to finish that paper. Who is your friend going to talk to if you can’t find the energy to answer their call? Wow, my classmates sound so informed about this and I can only sit here and nod at their discussion.

What a fraud. What are you even doing here? If you can’t handle this amount, how are you going to handle doing this full time? Maybe you made a mistake. Maybe this isn’t the field for you. Maybe you’re not capable of handling this. Everyone else can do it – why can’t you? No, they’re all stressed. It kind of sucks that feeling this way is the norm for us, doesn’t it? Crap, I forgot to email my supervisor!”

Every single one of these statements or questions have either run through my mind or have been communicated out loud by yours truly…more than once. And even reading back through it now, I can feel the anxiety. Those thoughts are enough to make anyone feel like curling up in their blanket and watching hours of “Queer Eye” episodes that you’ve re-watched 3 times already…which is exactly what I’m going to do once I finish writing this.

So what’s the point in me revealing all of my doubts and fears about grad school?

…I don’t know.

Sometimes I write to gain clarity and some perspective. Other times I write just to blow off steam.

I’ve yet to determine which one this is. Let’s see…

I am a graduate student and I’m tired. But my identity does not end there.

I am a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a friend, a dogmom, a Guyanese-American, an advocate, and a writer. I can probably add more, but you know…I’m tired. 

I guess my point right now is this:

Grad school is hard – it’s difficult and challenging and taking on the identity of a graduate student does not diminish your other identities. We are trying to keep a balance of all our identities and responsibilities that come with them. We are drained and stressed and overwhelmed. We would like others to hear us and understand that. We would like you to know that we are trying so hard to be good friends, children, spouses, partners, siblings, and parents. And sometimes we need you to understand that we would like to take off the grad student hat we wear and just be in the moment with you talking about anything and doing nothing.

Sometimes we wonder if you understand that we don’t just go to class, go home, study, and take exams. We do that, but we wonder if you also know that we’re basically paying to offer our free, nearly full-time services in order to graduate. We wonder if you know what we mean when we say we’re attending and presenting at conferences and how much time and energy goes into that. We smile and shrug and give you vague answers about how school is going when you ask. Partly because we don’t wan’t you to try and remind us of how lucky we are if we tell you the reality of how it’s going. Meanwhile, we’re thinking about how emotionally exhausted we are from continuing to think about it and how much we just want to exchange memes and see pictures of your dog for some sense of balance.

I don’t want anyone to think that I am not happy because I am tired and stressed. I am happy. Those feelings can exist together. And I write those words with complete honesty and comfort. I have learned so much about myself and the world over the last three years – far more than I could ever have hoped for. Through all of the setbacks and tears and doubt, I have learned more more about life and about my abilities. I have learned my limits and my boundaries, and I have learned that I am on my own journey. I’ve learned that comparing myself to anyone else is pointless, because in my life and with my experiences and perception of the world, how can I be anyone else? I am so proud of who I am and where I am. I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. My worries don’t erase that feeling.  

To my fellow grad students:

You are allowed to feel crappy. You are allowed to not be okay. You are allowed to be stressed and exhausted. You are allowed to make mistakes or say the wrong thing. You are allowed to fail. You are allowed to feel beaten down sometimes.

It does not mean that you are any less of a good person or a good student. You can be a good student and still fail, just like you can be a good parent and make a mistake. They are not mutually exclusive. 

And if you don’t take anything else away from this, just remember that you are more than just a grad student. So take a few moments, remember all of who you are, drink some water, play with your pet, watch some Netflix (I recommend Queer Eye if you need a positivity boost, of course), and get some rest.

You are your own worst critic.

You’re doing a lot better than you think you are.

I’m there with you, and I am proud of you.

I guess I did end up gaining some clarity.

“People have said, ‘Don’t cry’ to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, ‘I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.’ 

I’d rather have them say, ‘Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.’”

-Fred Rogers

53 thoughts on “I’m a Grad Student and I’m Tired. And That’s Okay.

      1. I have had a terrible week and this post couldn’t have come sooner. I am a youtuber, is it ok if I read this aloud on my channel. I’m in graduate school and couldn’t find the words. To describe how I felt. Please let me know if you give me permission to read your work. Thank you for this.

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      2. I’m glad you were able to find something that resonated with you during your difficult week! You are welcome to share this on your channel! All I ask is that you give credit to this post when you do share it. 🙂

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    1. This really spoke to me! I’m a MA Student who has rolled into their 3rd year of a 2 Yr program because of emotional and physical exhaustion. But funny enough failure has given me time to reflect and realise I am more than just a grad student.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “it will all pay off someday”, this makes me feel better. That all of this hard work and sacrifices will be pay off someday. I’m second year college now, educ student. I’m a working student, Im doing this all for my parents. But sometimes I just feel so down and tired, that makes me think to give up. My parents can’t afford to provide money for my study. And I tried so many times to become schoolar, and received a financial assistance, but sadly no one accepted me for so many reasons. But I’m dedicated to survive this challenging world.

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    2. I read an article in my first year in college “The right to Fail” in Prose Models. That stuck with me for some twenty years. Maybe sometime between Grad school and ‘Queer Eye’ you may take a read. Your thoughts and comments are real and strong and coming from a deep place that only a grad student can understand. Beautifully written. I love your style of you, that only you can say because you are that experience. What you feel and what has been and are your experiences takes you within to produce a piece that others can feel but not pen.
      I am here with you in thoughts and prayers and cheering you on from my own little corner. I am thankful for your successes. Great piece Danya. Keep up the good work.

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  1. “They tell you that as graduate students, you will need to let go of your need to be perfect. And yet, they set these perfect expectations for you to meet in order to move forward.” — YES. Also, something I’m struggling with lately is feelings of inferiority of not pursuing a PhD… I’m writing about that soon. Great post! ❤❤

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve read this five times since I found it 10 minutes ago. I don’t know who you are but thank you for saying all the things I could only sum up for myself in my journal as, “I’m tired.” I want to print it and give it to everyone in my life just so they have an idea of how I’m feeling. Thank you, again!

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  2. The section on perfectionism literally gave me goosebumps. This is so well-written and I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you writing this and putting it out there for people to see. So valid. I see you and I support you.
    -Another tired PT student

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  3. Wow! Brilliantly articulated – and I’m here for you all too! I’ve just started coaching grad students on how to get through without killing yourself and/or your relationships in the process. And my students have said I’m really good at helping guide them through all the crap we are paying to do. You made so many fantastic points throughout your message above. I’ll be sharing it with my students and friends. And I’d be happy to support you in getting to the end as fast and joyfully as you can!

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  4. All the love for this article. At one point or another you just feel completely drained. You can cry at any moment and you start to lose yourself from the stress of class, working full time, as well as going to clinical every spare moment you can find. I have never doubted myself more than when I started grad school. Thank you for saying everything i’m thinking way clearer than I ever could. Just because i’m having a melt down doesn’t mean i’m broken. Just come console me and tell me I can do this. I got this. I’m almost there. – Sincerely, another tired Family Nurse Practitioner student with one more month to go ❤

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  5. Thank you, a lot of times we do not open up fearing judgment and looking different in peoples eyes. this really helps put things in perspective.

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      1. I can relate to this 1000000%. I feel exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, and a boat load of many other things! I appreciate you for writing this. It sometimes feels like you’re (me) the only one experiencing hardships! I have literally been in school since kindergarten in 2000.NONSTOP!! I thank you for writing this. I was just contemplating withdrawing, but this article has given me my breath of fresh air, and the motivation to finish.

        -the professional student

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  6. Wonderful article, I admire all students that move on to the next level. Take time for you, rest, restore and rejuvenate you first before taking on anyone else problems. Praying for students everywhere.

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  7. Thank you for sharing! We talk about seeing the “good” and I believe we do a good job of that. It is important to realize it is ok to just not be ok. Grad school is about so much more than school and growing up, it’s about finding the balance you didn’t even know you need. You can only be involved in so many projects/groups/presentations. Giving over-achievers this responsibility is dangerous.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

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  8. I get the feeling that when this part of your life is over, you will go on to be one of the very best people to work in your profession. Someone who can understand themsellf as well as you obviously have been able to, can only go on to bigger and better things in their life. You are a remarkable young woman and such a joy to family and firiends. God bless.

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  9. So exactly on target — and incredibly well written. Okay to share with credit? I know a lot of people who all feel the same thing and we all think it’s just us, and so aren’t talking about these things…

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  10. This article came at the perfect time. I read your words and they felt as if they were mine. Over and over again I’ve smack myself saying that I can’t and should not feel good way. It’s a world of torture that we endure. I also find myself typing this comment and then deleting it.
    Wordsmithing and constantly critiquing everything I do. Thank you for the solace. We are all here in this together.

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  11. Wow! This is absolutely incredible and just what I needed to hear right now! I graduate with my masters in school counseling in 2 weeks, am moving across the country 2 days after graduation, and am getting married in 4 months. Literally felt like I wrote this about myself because of how much it related to my life!! Great job!

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  12. This was so needed, especially since I have been struggling with feelings of anxiety and depression. I don’t know when I would graduate, when I would be able to breathe away from these damn papers, what does the world feel like anymore? It’s like an academic purgatory of sorts. I hope that it’s worth it. Thanks for your honesty in this piece, dear.

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  13. Thank you, in all your tiredness and exhaustion, to find the energy to share this helpful and uplifting post. I definitely needed it!

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  14. Wow, thank you for the insight. I never knew. It takes a lot of courage to share these thoughts with the world.

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  15. This is literally the most relatable post I have ever read. Thank you for putting this in words. Thank you for saying what I feel.

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  16. Thank you for this. This is exactly what I want to tell my family and friends because this is Me. Literally had a mental breakdown and crisis just last week when I only have 2 more weeks to go before graduating. I can really resonate with the part of giving vague answers to those that assume I’m handling everything because that’s exactly what I do; give vague answers. They wouldn’t understand unless they were in our shoes. Every time I hear someone say you’re not alone, I shrug it off because I’m aware that I’m not alone, but there’s just no appropriate way to explain all of this without breaking down every single day. Love this, love you for expressing this, and good luck on the rest of your journey!

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  17. This was AMAZING!! Thank you for sharing this because it’s exactly what I feel in my grad program. It’s always helpful to know that we are not alone and that our emotions are valid and it doesn’t mean we are not happy but that we are really tired and that it is okay to feel like this. You are appreciated! This article is appreciated! Thank you again!

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  18. Thank you so much and I appreciate you writing this. Gaining clarity over an issue and relating to one another is the best kind of therapy and you just offered a free session, my friend. I will support one of your suggestions, by restating the importance of a positive relationship with failure. If you become friends with embarrassment and mistakes, then you have better access to change and growth. Pull yourself up again, laugh at your silly mistakes but be sure to remind yourself that you learned something valuable and that this will serve you in the future. After you follow these steps, grab a bucket of ice cream and cry over being stupid, no I am kidding, then hulk your way out into the world again, hungry for more opportunities to learn!

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  19. Thank you as a parent for allowing me some insite into my daughters world. She doesn’t let me in so much. I worry and don’t know how to help, when to contact, when not to take her so seriously and when to. You have now given me some insite and with 20/20 being hindsite I now think I understand. Thank you.

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  20. “it will all pay off someday”, this makes me feel better. That all of this hard work and sacrifices will be pay off someday. I’m second year college now, educ student. I’m a working student, Im doing this all for my parents. But sometimes I just feel so down and tired, that makes me think to give up. My parents can’t afford to provide money for my study. And I tried so many times to become schoolar, and received a financial assistance, but sadly no one accepted me for so many reasons. But I’m dedicated to survive this challenging world.

    Like

  21. Thank you so much for verbalizing the grad school experience so much better than I ever could. Thank you for me letting me know that I am not alone and that it’s ok to fail sometimes or have the wrong answer. My anxiety has been at an all time high simply because I compare myself to my peers and others too often. I feel like I may not be smart enough, good enough, or that I have chosen the wrong field. All of the things you said so eloquently are exactly how I feel right now.

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  22. I’m about a semester and a half away from graduating and I am So. Burned. Out. I just want to NOT have to think about school every single waking moment. Thanks for posting. It has made me feel the tiniest bit sane today. ❤️

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  23. Thank you so much for this. I am a first year grad student at Columbia, and I have spent this entire week crying. I have sobbed after practice dyad sessions, at grades that aren’t perfect—far from it, at crappy input from group work members. I run from full-time classes to a job, to a research assistant position, and home for homework. I am happy to see that I am not alone in feeling happy and tired at once. I am relieved to see I am not alone feeling like this will never work and that I don’t belong. Thank you. I cried reading this, but for the first time this week, they were tears of relief.

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  24. This week I texted my friend that I wanted to drop out of our program. I feel inadequate, incompetent, and hopeless every day in my 3rd year. I feel both lazy and overworked; I am spending so much of my time supporting others in my practicum and externship, but I can’t even seem to take care of myself or be there for the ones I love. I cry often, but sometimes I don’t even have the energy to summon tears. Other times I feel numb and like I’m dissociated from my own life. The light at the end of the tunnel is a small speck of dust in the other room. My friend sent me your post and it was eerie to read your words. It seems like my thoughts were downloaded onto your blog. Thank you for this. It was a message I needed to hear.

    Like

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