I am a workaholic, addicted to improvement and productivity. It makes it a little hard to relax sometimes, but I’m happiest when I’m working on something. Especially being a foreigner in England, studying at an English university, I feel that I have something to prove others. Prove that I’m just as good as all the native speakers, can get grades that are just as good and that – even though I have to work quite a few hours on the side to afford my bills – I can easily keep up with all the work. Obviously it’s not a good or healthy reason, but it drives me.

This sometimes gets me into situations that could’ve easily been avoided. Today I want to share a little story about my third year university class choices. And how I dropped out of one in the first week.

In my second and third year at university, I could pick the units I was to follow for the entire year. In second year I was allowed to pick two units; American Literature and Critical Theory. Critical Theory being the hardest unit on the course, I got drawn into it.

“I’ll show them that I can do the hardest unit on the whole course!”


Even though I got high 2:1 and 1:1 for all my other units, I finished Critical Theory with a bare 2:2. For my third year choices I had to pick three units. I ended up picking screenwriting, children’s literatureĀ  and the follow up unit of Critical Theory. The reason I picked Critical Theory again was simple. Again they’d told me that this was the most difficult unit on the course. Even most English students didn’t have to think twice for not picking this. And there I was… Trying to prove myself once again by picking the hardest unit on the course.

I tried to do most of my reading during the summer. Prepared myself as well as I could. But during the first week of the semester I got an email from the Critical Theory unit. A welcome email to all the students who had chosen the unit, including a 25 pages document about neoliberalism and a worksheet with a ton of questions.

While reading through it, I realised the mistake I’d made. I hardly knew any of the vocabulary used in the neoliberalism document, let alone being able to form answers to the questions on the worksheet. I knew that if I were to take this unit, I was ruining my chance of getting a 2:1 or 1:1 for my degree at the end of the year. Of course, I could look up the vocabulary and spend hours on hours trying to understand the texts, getting myself ready for the essays and exams. But I’d done this during my second year, and ended up with a low 2:2. I decided it was okay to give myself a break and ask the faculty leader to change units.

For me, this was incredibly difficult. I didn’t want to look like I was giving up, simply because the level of English was way too high for me to understand. I felt like I was a failure for wanting to change to Fin The Siecle (end of 19th century literature). But I did it. And he approved my change of units.

Having done this, I feel so much happier and relaxed. Yes, of course the literature unit is going to be a lot of work too, but it’d be much more appropriate for me. I realised it’s okay to give up sometimes. To change something so you can be happier, perform better and feel less stressed. My third year is going to be stressful enough, there’s no need to increase that level of stress simply to prove others that I can finish the toughest unit on the course. The paper we get in the end is going to be the very same.

I’m learning that I don’t have to prove myself. I need to understand that doing a university degree in my second language, while working on the side and trying to maintain a blog are proof enough that I work very hard and am capable of doing all these things! I’m incredibly proud of myself for the work I do and the results I get. The units I’m following now are so much fun and I don’t even really mind doing the work for it.

What I wanted to get across in this little article is, that sometimes the best choice is to give up. Change something. Do something for yourself, not for others.

Has anyone ever experienced a similar experience?
How did you deal with it?

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4 comments on “When it’s okay to give up.”

  1. I left my graduate role back in June. Part of the reason was the way the business was run was incredibly stressful, trying to arrange logistics and ALOT of scenarios dealing with angry customers. It was too much and alot of the days I went home in tears. When I first knew I wanted to leave I felt bad because I felt like I would be wasting my degree and obviously the stigma around quitting and giving up. But actually, I was saying enough is enough to working extremely hard (60 hour week, overtime was compulsory) and not getting the develop I needed or the recognition to say I was doing a good job. I am now in the process of getting ready to launch my own business. Everything happens for a reason, when things like this happen. We are simply being put on the right path.

    I love that you wanted to choose the harder units to prove yourself you could do it but it is definitely not worth compromising your final degree results. After all, employers mainly look for First class or 2.1, I doubt they look into the units you chose.

    Well done for making the choice that is best for you!

    Hayley | hayleyxmartin

  2. This post resonated with me so much, Nele! I picked some very challenging units during the second and third years of my undergraduate degree because I wanted to challenge myself and it made my life sooooo much harder! My friends who took easier modules had a lot more free time and revision for finals was much easier for them, but I soldiered on and in the end was proud of the result, but I could’ve achieved the exact same with a lot less heartache had I just gone for the easier option, so I think you’ve made the right call here! Sometimes you do just need to let yourself off the hook, I for one still think you’re doing amazingly!

    Abbey šŸ˜˜ http://www.abbeylouisarose.co.uk

    • Thank you so much Abbey, that’s so kind of you to say! It’s so hard to make the decision to take a step back sometimes, but I really want to get on the master degree and I would need a really good grade overall! Don’t wanna let that get ruined by trying to prove myself as the only international student on the course trying to do the hardest unit on the course :”)!

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