Graduating in a Pandemic & 5 Unpopular / Uncommon Opinions on Productivity

My desk in the school studio at the end of 2019 vs my desk today in my own place

It’s almost a year since I was told my University would be closing due to increasing Coronavirus measures and it was clear there was a level of uncertainty surrounding our future security at the school, how classes would be handled and if we’d even get to see the inside of the studios again. Packing up my desk I assumed we’d be back in a few weeks. A month? Before the end of the school year surely? Maybe just for a scaled back degree show? Eventually I returned toward the end of the summer, long after graduating with my degree in the post, to collect the rest of my belongings that had been forgotten since March. No degree show, no after party, no final scramble for the printers to put together portfolios and no goodbyes. It’s almost surreal to think back and realise that my art school experience ended all of a sudden one day after two and a half years. Really we weren’t that far to the finish line, but at the time it felt light years away, especially in lockdown when the days blended into one another and never seemed to end.

As sad as it seems, a lot of my identity and sense of self rested in that student status. I felt safe since I was still in education. I was learning and allowed to not have a clear direction nor was I really expected to. When that platform that you’ve rested on for 6 odd years (even more if you count primary and secondary education) is suddenly pulled from under you when you least expect, existential crisis doesn’t begin to cover it. Now this doesn’t mean I was blissfully unaware that one day I’d have to leave education and venture into the real world, I was preparing for it honestly – just not preparing for it backdropped by a global pandemic. I don’t think anyone prepares for that, and nobody can truly prepare you for anything close.

I soon learned that I was very much reliant on structure, scheduling, timetabling – but I also soon learned that I was very much reliant on others creating that structure for me. Not a good look. I found it very hard to stay motivated and hold myself accountable, after all what would it matter if I completed this portfolio if the world was ending? Creating work was a chore and even the hobbies I loved became more of an obligation, as if they rooted me more to earth and the horrors that was happening in it rather than letting me float away into a blissful Tiktok escape. The only thing is, when you let go of all these things you start to let go of yourself a bit as well. I don’t blame myself or anyone else though from wanting to remove themselves from, well, themselves and seek some sort relief.

I don’t really remember what made the switch to bring me back to earth. Maybe it was something a friend said, maybe it was the weather improving with the Spring. Maybe it was just me being sick of my own moaning. I’m not sure, but I still vividly remember the day it happened. I got up early (“early” – it was 10am but come on these days that’s impressive, right?), I worked out for the first time in months and I sat down with my sketchbook ready to just try. No expectation, only a small goal, just to put pen to paper and see what happens. Now this wasn’t the magic turning point that put the rest of the year on the up, it was just a start. There was, and still is, ‘down’ days and ‘up’ days but I’ve learned to let them come and go, work with the flow and let my routine and motivation develop as I traverse this new way of life.

People always try to give advice and suggestions for improvement. Some work and some don’t, it’s all up to the individual. Maybe this post is just another example of that idk. I think though honestly, and I know no one really wants to hear this, but sometimes you just have to go through the tough times to find out what’s going to pull you through in the end. No amount of yoga, meditation, crystals, green tea and list making will give you a 180 mood shift in one day, although it might give you a hand in the process with some practice. Hindsight really is 20/20 (no pun intended) and it sucks that I can only see clearly now that trajectory that helped me gain my confidence back because I know me last year would’ve loved to know the secret recipe – or probably smacked me for suggesting “just give it time”. I am grateful now however that I know that little bit better.

Without getting too much into it, it was tough, very tough and I know everyone out there felt the same and maybe still does feel the same and so I thought I would list some of the thoughts / habits that helped me through a difficult and intimidating transition in the hope it would resonate with someone else out there.

Let yourself fail:

It’s okay if you wake up and today doesn’t turn out to be the day you start your new workout routine, apply for that job or wake up early. Your FBI agent isn’t watching through your laptop/phone camera waiting for you to fail – they have better things to be doing honestly. Some days just aren’t going to be your best and recently those bad days seem to come around more frequently. Accept how you feel, it is valid and who knows you might end up regaining some strength later in the day. If not, you’ll have a restful and restorative one ready to try again tomorrow.

Be honest:

There’s days where you just know your mental/physical health is rock bottom, I understand, but recently I discovered that I find myself falling into old habits, comforts and thought patterns just because they’re familiar and easier to deal with than the thought of trying something new and failing. Be honest with yourself, are you really unable or are you just afraid of whatever failure you’ve built up in your head? Self sabotage is an easy friend to make, but it’s a toxic friendship that you’re better off without.

Be flexible:

It’s all well and good to make a schedule, but then what happens when you can’t stick to it, you fail, you get upset and you’re put off from trying again? Don’t expect to be great at a schedule or method of working first try, not everything works for everyone and it’ll take a while to find your groove. Make notes and be present. Note your behaviours, patterns, likes, dislikes. Also, give yourself breathing room in your schedules and to do lists, don’t overcrowd. If you have time and feel up for doing more, great! If not, future you will be grateful you didn’t pack a full day of working, cleaning and socialisation into 24 hours. The view on productivity and worth is beginning to shift, the idea you must appear to be working 24/7 is unhealthy and unsustainable, don’t buy into it, especially not now. Of course not everyone has the luxury to be able to rest and not worry about their productivity level, but if you are in a position to do so the rest will be more beneficial to you in the long run than the impending burn out.

Don’t pigeon-hole:

It was difficult emerging into the working world during a pandemic. Job hunting and securing a Junior position seemed like the only thing in the world that was important, it consumed all of my thoughts. It removed me from things I enjoyed, put pressure on projects and portfolio pieces that could’ve been fun and engaging and decimated my sense of self worth. Your entire being is not solely rooted on your ability to work and be productive. Enjoy doing nothing in the fresh air for the love of God!

70%:

I came across this rule in @struthless’s video where he talks about perfectionism and how to overcome it. He speaks about only completing something 70%, removing the idea that it must be perfect and therefore removing any perfectionist habits and second guessing that may come with the project. It has helped me let go of projects, make decisions faster and keep me moving forward. We all know that nothing will ever be “done”, so make sure its at least 70% done. In fact, just watch his whole channel, I can’t believe it’s free I feel like I’ve been to a very enlightening therapy session with each video I watch.

If anything, I hope this helps make sense of some of the feelings people may be having and help others feel validated. I also hope it brings some peace to students who will be graduating and moving onto the next step in their life this year – or anyone really! Each day is a new step that we all must find the bravery to take on.

Published by Emma Harvey

I am a Jr Graphic Designer and aspiring design research writer. I enjoy learning about systems and structures of communication and how this can be subverted for the betterment of our world. I also like dogs. Like, a lot...

2 thoughts on “Graduating in a Pandemic & 5 Unpopular / Uncommon Opinions on Productivity

  1. Thanks for your really thoughtful piece, I think a lot of people will resonate with it. I love struthless’s video. I am struggling writing even the beginning of a book as I think it has to be perfect and everyone else seems to do it better. I shall think again after this. I have also confirmed that structure is HUGE for me. I need it. It feeds directly into my sense and need to be useful. It’s good to finish stuff but it shouldn’t be all that defines me. I need to look back more to see what’s been achieved – however imperfect – and that helps me if the present is unproductive. But I also recognise that how I used my skills in the past may not be the way I use them in the future. Transferability is a wonderful thing. We’re all good at things we don’t know we are yet, as we haven’t moved outside of our box. ‘Failing’ is more interesting than succeeding a lot of the time, I learn more. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed! That’s so exciting to be writing a book, will defos be looking forward to reading! Such a good point on transferable skills as well, it’s almost guaranteed many will have gone through such a shift that their way of working and the skills that come with will need to adapt and make way for new exciting ones too! 😁

      Like

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