I have a nice problem but it's making me miserable.

My background is in visual communication and I'm used to getting regular feedback as well as seeing what my classmates are up to. Also, the grades we would get back then didn't really matter but the quality of the work was what would land us a job later so I'm always concerned with the quality of what I'm doing. Also, this sometimes makes me feel like I'm starting with a handicap as I'm not used to writing papers and English is not my first language.

Ever since I joined a Master's program in a different field, I can't seem to set reasonable expectations for myself (or align my expectations to the ones for the course). As I work on a project, I keep finding holes and making it better until I'm satisfied. Since there is little feedback and that I don't know what my classmates are doing, I just do my best or as close as I'm able to. The nice part is that sometimes the work ends up having potential for publication, I get a nice GPA and the esteem of my teachers. The not-so-good part is that I just don't have a life until school is over and my stress is really ramping up. The obvious solution would be to not try so hard but that seems like a waste of an education.

Any advice?

  • 2
    You should ask the faculty for more feedback. How your peers are doing does not really matter much. Since this is Academia, I do not think we are going to tell you to work less. Mar 22, 2015 at 22:07

3 Answers 3


Emillie, I to struggle with the same issues. I am working on my Masters as well. I have a few handicaps that make my life a bit difficult when trying to do my best. When I ask my professors questions, I get, Keep up the good work, if you require more time, let me know. Never the answer to what I am actually asking for. Anyways, I strive for one day at time. I keep my head up and continue to find enjoyment in small things, to keep my head from exploding on the larger things.

Remember why you started what your doing now. Pull your energy from your roots/background. And focus on why you want to do what your doing! What is your end game?

Try to get some exercise, specifically cardiovascular.

Then start to eat the elephant again, one bite at a time.

There are those who don't want you to succeed, and strive on seeing you fail, because that is one less person in the pool or class. When you do finish, and you will, keep that in mind! Be a motivator!

Good Luck, Ron


Great answer by Ron. I have some additional specific suggestions for you.

What you are suffering from is sometimes called school anxiety. Practice telling people that you are suffering from school anxiety, so it will roll off your tongue without causing you distress. Then you'll be ready to talk to your professors about it. Make a special appointment with each one. If it's easier to bring a friend or a representative of the Disability Services office with you, for moral support, go ahead.

In the appointment, tell the professor calmly that you have been suffering from school anxiety. Hopefully at that point the professor will jump in and ask, "Is there anything I can do to support you?" If not, that's okay, you can just start talking about things s/he can do to support you. Specifically, what I have in mind is for you to send the professor a draft before you feel finished, for feedback. This kind of hand-holding can help prevent anxious over-editing.

Also, you should be working with the college Writing Center. That will also help prevent over-editing, and it will help get you out of your isolation.

The other thing you can do in that last regard is to interact more with classmates and department mates. Try to find a study partner or study group. Look for notices on bulletin boards about Friday volleyball. If there aren't any, put one up yourself. (Volleyball was just an example, of course.)

It's fine to be meticulous and hard-working, but when you see the editing making you miserable, that's a red flag, and it's time to build in more support for yourself.


This is a situation that you simply cannot balance without making some changes to your lifestyle. The most important point is to take breaks, and not to feel guilty for doing so.

The other answerers have good suggestions on productive ways to spend break time, but there are less productive ways as well. Go to parties or bars, have a few drinks. Go on holiday. Join a board game club. Some people just need other people, and if you're that sort of person then it can eat at you from the inside if you spend all your time working in solitude.

If you are the sort of person who can stick to a well-defined schedule, then I would suggest scheduling your leisure activities well in advance, and try to keep to a routine that you do not break unless it's really necessary.

Lastly, give yourself at least one day in the weekend where you do not work unless you're super-motivated, genuinely want to get something done, and have no personal things that need doing.

  • 1
    +1 for "it can eat at you from the inside if you spend all your time working in solitude".
    – Alexandros
    May 10, 2015 at 12:20

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