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Midwestern University College of Pharmacy, Downers Grove
A Year of Online Classes Through a Pandemic

College Connection

by Alex Wu, PS-2 Student Chapter Treasurer Midwestern University College of Pharmacy, Downers Grove Campus

At the start of the pandemic, I was at a heightened emotional state where I was worried and nervous. The idea of languishing came about as this emotional state between suffering and thriving.1 That was how I felt, especially with online classes. I had a significant daily workload, but it was not exciting. I was not excited to show up to Zoom classes and to do what felt like busywork. So I have been doing the minimum, and I am not proud of that. 

Recognizing that it is normal to be feeling this way was a difficult reflection. It is not atypical for people to be feeling this languish – naming that emotion has allowed me to address it. Over the past year, I shifted my focus from planning ahead to what is in front of me. Every time I looked forward to something, the rug would get pulled out from underneath. While this is an effective strategy for survival, it is not effective for thriving. I created small goals such as catching up with a friend and tidying up my apartment once a week, which brought me joy. I enjoy and get excited having goals to look forward to with in-person classes and interactions slowly making their way back.

Online schooling has made having boundaries between school and personal life incredibly difficult. I am fortunate to have a separate room, which creates a physical boundary from where I work and rest. However, I lacked those boundaries in other ways, especially technological. Online schooling is tricky when your social life is also online. Your friends and professors are communicating with you through the same device. It was challenging to talk to friends or professors without receiving notifications from the other end. Unhealthy patterns came about, such as not reading the professors’ constructive feedback or jumping out in the middle of a conversation with a friend to read what the professor had to say. This threw me into a loop, and reflecting on this has made me realize the importance of explicit boundaries and how I am not great at creating implicit boundaries intuitively, especially on digital screens. Figuring out clear boundaries, such as turning off notifications at a specific time, has helped create a virtual boundary. In the future, this will become easier as social life returns to being more in-person. You can put your phone in your pocket and forget about it because you are with friends.

Upon reflecting on some tasks I did and did not do well this year, I realize there is a defining characteristic. Namely, the things that I did well were things that I made habits. For example, exercise was something that I habitualized. I decided to go to the gym every morning, and it became a habit. Unfortunately, my sleep suffered because it was something that I did not make a habit. I describe willpower as a depletable battery. Every time you decide to do something, you use part of that battery. Throughout the pandemic, it was tiring having to decide every day if I would do this or that. By habitualizing daily tasks that I once thought were tedious, I established a general routine that helped preserve my battery for the unexpected. Although it is important to recognize the power of habits, it is necessary to have spontaneity and not overthink things where every element of every day is planned. A lot of informal interactions, especially social interactions, tend to be spontaneous.

There is a term called MVP – Minimum Viable Product where you build only the minimum features required to test your hypothesis on whether or not your idea has potential.2 I like to apply this term for each day – what are the minimum viable habits that I need in my life? I have been planning my days by scheduling only the important things and keeping the rest of the time for exploration and spontaneity. I want to do things that will bring me joy and recharge my battery to get me moving forward again. Planning is something you play with yourself. You figure out what is appropriate for you in your current phase in life, and you can only do that through experimentation. 

  1. Grant, Adam. “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”, The New York Times, 19 April 2021, Accessed 21 April 2021.
  2. Aberant, Josh. “The Power of Minimum Viable Products (and the Key to Their Success).”, CMSWire, 23 January 2018, Accessed 1 June 2021.

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