What I’ve Learned at UT: Don’t Try to Do it All

What I Learned at UT: Don't Try to Do it All

For commencement 2014, we asked graduating students to share one thing they’ve learned from their time at UT. Below, psychology major Sadie Witkowski writes about how college helped her narrow her interests and let go of the habit of “doing it all.”

Four years after entering my dorm room in Carothers for the first time, suddenly there’s a cap and gown hanging in the closet of my North Campus apartment. It’s still hard for me to realize how the time might have flown by so rapidly. Wasn’t I just learning my way around UT’s monstrous campus a few months ago? Though I suppose when I look back at the past four years, I can see how much I’ve grown and matured at the University of Texas.

If I could give only one takeaway from my college experience, without a doubt I would say this: I have learned to not just do, but to do what I love and love what I do. Even as I think these words, I can hear how cheesy or cliché this may sound, but it’s truly the biggest life lesson I’ve learned in college. I left high school as a complete over-achiever. I was in nearly every academic club and an officer of more than one just so that I would have a résumé about four pages long for college applications. When I first entered UT, I tried to use the exact same tactic and prove myself to be the best at everything. But UT is a huge university, and I found myself burnt out from trying to take on a full load of classes and several student organizations when I still hadn’t figured out how to do laundry in the dorms.

I found myself burnt out from trying to take on a full load of classes and several student organizations when I still hadn’t figured out how to do laundry in the dorms. 

It was too much at once. I had to realize that I just couldn’t do everything, nor did I really want to do it all.

Partially because of its size, the University of Texas has classes and clubs for basically any interest. I had to realize that I needed to be involved with only those that interested me rather than take on the whole university. It took a while to learn this lesson that I should focus on the things that excite me rather than proving my intelligence. For example, I signed up for an incredibly difficult class my sophomore year just to prove myself. Unfortunately, it ended up being un-engaging for me and hurt my performance in the other classes I loved. That semester taught me to follow my interests and not be concerned what others thought of my intelligence.

In fact, college is supposed to be an egocentric time in that you have to learn what works for you by focusing on you. It took one class for me to realize that I needed to do what I was actually interested in, rather than proving myself to everyone else. That’s how I found my future career and my path to graduate school in cognitive psychology. I stopped trying to do everything and just focused on my true passion—research.

I may not have racked up leadership points to put on my résumé, but I have been involved with several research projects about sleep that have brought me back for more every time. I’m not an expert, but I can tell you all about the negative cognitive effects associated with chronic sleep restriction. I suspect this might sound like jargon to some, though to me it’s a language in which I’ve gained fluency. My four-year experience at the University of Texas has given me appreciation for finding what I love and pursuing it however I find it most challenging or fascinating. What more could you ask for from a college education?

Artwork by Melissa Reese. 


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