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Keep it moving: A look into how I overcame academic pressure during my thesis

Article by Daan Marten

As an intellectual philosopher once said; Working 9 – 5, what a way to make a living, barley getting by, it’s all taking and no giving. A true classic, and in my opinion a good description of something that every bachelor student has to go through at some point in their academic career; thesis-life. At the end of my 4th year of the Bachelor BLP, it was my turn. I'll be honest, I didn't necessarily know what I was getting into. Very little was known about how the thesis would work, and our unconventional program naturally included an unconventional thesis. From what I had heard from my housemates, it came down to 2 full periods of writing, processing feedback, writing more and processing more feedback. But where does the design aspect come into play? How and what am I going to write about my design? I would like to tell you that this became clear when I started my thesis, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The only thing that was clear about my thesis is that it would have to be the crowning achievement of your studies. An academic pièce de resistance, your magnum opus, whatever you want to call it, the thesis is certainly important. If only because for many it is the last hurdle to obtaining your bachelor's degree. And as someone who secretly really enjoys his studies and really wants to make a career with it, this mainly meant that I experienced a lot of pressure to do the thesis “right”. I have experienced problems with this in the past. When you're so desperate to do it “right,” getting started is often the scariest part. According to the perfectionist in me, which you should never listen to, every step has to go exactly right, otherwise I might as well give up. Not the ideal attitude for your first fully independent project within the study, because while you can normally rely on the approval of, and check-in moments with teachers, you really are on your own when it comes to your thesis.

Being left to your own devices, being your own worst critic, but still wanting to perform. For me, all these concepts can be boiled down to feeling the “pressure.” Pressure to perform, pressure to stand on your own two feet, pressure to complete your studies, and so on. Of course it differs per person, but for me pressure also goes hand in hand with fear of failure. I have actually struggled with this from an early age, but it has hindered me the most with my thesis. I didn't know where to start, what the finished product would look like, what a finished product should even look like, when I've done enough, and the list of worries goes on. The annoying thing about these questions is that until you hand in a final product, you have no answer. Isn’t that just great, you have to start something and you only know what it is supposed to be when you have already crossed the finish line.

Okay, you get the idea, and now we’ve reached what I like to call the “all time low” of the article. A little side note, my father and I have made it an art to be able to point out the lowest point of a move. After such a low point you know that the movie can (hopefully) only get better. So what can the attentive reader take away from this paragraph? Things will get better from now on!

When the initial panic about full independence had subsided, it was replaced by a new feeling; freedom. Some call it rethinking, others call it a “positive attitude”, I prefer calling it: answering the same questions, but answering them differently. Performance pressure can be translated into “wanting to do good.” But what does “doing good” actually mean? if I want to do well, I have to do my best. And I simply can't do better than my best. So as long as I put MY time and MY effort into my thesis, it's “good!” And with that I got to work. I came up with a routine that worked for me, which meant that every morning I would go to the Columbus café to get coffee, then go to the library, and work on my thesis until 5 p.m. I have never been a very consistent student, as I was usually guided by the waves of stress I experienced when the pressure to perform came knocking again. It's almost an internal paradox, but the rigidity of a rhythm gave me the freedom I had been looking for, for a long time.

Now I should note that I am not trying to insinuate that everyone should follow this path. It may have worked for me, but that doesn't mean it will work the same for you. The mechanism, re-answering a question if you don't know the answer, can work. Maybe you are someone who doesn't believe in their own ideas and has trouble trusting those ideas. “It's not original enough” is something I hear all too often in our studies. I could write a whole new article about the myth of originality, but the bottom line is that the originality of an idea is highly overrated and impossible to prove. You could even think of it this way: if others have the same idea as you, maybe it's because it's a really good idea! In addition, an idea is only 10% of your complete product. How you execute this idea, which you do in a way that only you can, that is where your power lies.

I could go on and on with examples, but I think you get the idea by now. You create performance pressure yourself, most forms of pressure are a product of your own insecurity, but the fact that you create this pressure yourself also means that you alone have the power to free yourself from this pressure. So ask the question again, think three more times, but after that? Just let yourself go.


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