2022. The turn of the year always brings this sense of opportunity for what’s ahead, but also always finds me in awe of just how many things fit in the previous year. So before turning the page on new things ahead, I took a moment to reflect on one of the big events for me this year, aka the end of my 17 years of school and studying, because 2021 is the year I’ll be pinpointing as the year when I completed the two master’s degrees I decided to do. After months of waiting for the final administrative procedures, I’m finally holding in my hands two pieces of paper that have been a ridiculous part my life in the past two years – my master’s degree in media studies from the University of Groningen in one hand, and my master’s degree in communication for development from Malmö University in the other.
I’ve spent some time reflecting on why and how I decided to pursue two masters simultaneously, because that question regularly popped up when someone would find out about it. While it sure has been a lot of work, I’ve never felt particularly overwhelmed by it. Now – disclaimer – not everyone likes to study, academic methods are not adapted to everyone’s ways of learning and expressing themselves, and in the end, the question of what’s a lot of effort and what isn’t is quite subjective. It is a question of personality to some extent to want to focus on sometimes dry and highly theoretical academic writing, and I am lucky enough to have always enjoyed a scholarly way of learning and have affinities for it. This for sure has played a role in my academic path, but particularly for this last stage of my studies I feel it’s rather been a question of prioritisation and picking the right fights.
As a kid, I was always really good at school. So good that getting good grades got entangled with defining who I am, which in turn made me put the pressure on myself in keeping those grades up in everything I did. Then, little by little, as I finished high school and got to my bachelor, I started deeply realising that life is, and you’ll never believe what I’m about to say, about more than grades. Grades don’t mean success and success doesn’t come from grades, and at the end of the day, what grades I get or don’t get won’t change who I can or can’t be as a person. I am competitive and ambitious, which also pushed me to get good grades even after those realisations, but lifting off the twisted pressure of sucess at exams being a part of my identity meant I don’t get disappointed in the same way if not reaching a target, and I am also able to be genuinely happier about my performance when exceeding it.
Regardless of the fact that grades don’t define a person, in some situations they have their own importance. Whether we like it or not, our whole scholar and academic system is built on grading to measure our competence, understanding and motivation, which means grades can (but don’t necessarily) affect your path from where you study to what job you get. And this is where my learnings from the last couple of years become particularly important. A good motivation, good in the sense of bringing good results, but more importantly in making you feel good, comes from knowing why you want to do something (like get a certain degree or a certain grade from a course). You want to go to a top-ranked university because they have high-quality education on a topic that you’re passionate about and what to become a professsional in? Work for those grades. You want to have niche knowledge that combines two disciplines that are traitionally not offered as one degree? Go for the double degree. You aspire to work for a specific company of industry where you know the competition is high and academic results can give an advantage? Strive for your best. But if motivation comes from an external push that doesn’t resonate with personal aspirations and motivations, or it comes from a need of validation (to yourself or others), it might be worth reconsidering whether that’s what you really need to put your time and energy into. In this case, grades, degrees and prestige can’t bring happiness or personal satisfaction if the motivation comes from something completely different, like avoiding pain. If the idea of failing at a goal you’re considering makes you feel like a failure as a person, there might be some room for introspection instead of extra hours at the library.
I decided to do these two masters simulateously because I knew I wanted to learn more about these two fields and combine them into something that I’m passionate about (the role of social media in society and social change). Thanks to having the right motivation. I managed to do it in a way that felt fulfilling and didn’t put pressure on me as a person because I knew my motivations for both studies together and separately and could pick the right fight. No need to give 100% to everything, but just whatever percentage serves the purpose you set the task. Knowing the why of what I was doing created an order of importance, which determined how much time and effort, and what kind of effort I put into different things. In the end, I graduated with a cum laude mention and an average of 8.5 from the university of Groningen because I made it my priority in matter of studies. I wanted to do as well as possible to get everything I can out of the program that I was taking in person (my degree in Malmö was fully online), and which I deemed to have a broader application in the future and more options to personalise it on the specific topics I am interested in. On the other hand, my grades at Malmö university are mediocre, and the last mention in my thesis feedback was ”this is clearly a pass, but nothing more than that.” Believe me, that stung a bit in the moment. But in the end, I still felt that I had achieved what I wanted to as well, as my goal at Malmö was rather to use it as a suportive and deepening experience to gain a better understanding of the specific field of development and the challenges related to communication in it. While it might not be reflected in my grades, I have learnt tremendously during this program on topics I had no previous background in, and I am happy to have put exactly the amount of effort I did in this second program, as lowering how much of myself I give to it ensured that I still keep the balance between work and life.
Which leads me to the other thought on why I was able to study a lot without feeling too much pressure. Knowing the why of what you’re doing doesn’t only apply to studying or working, but everything in life. There is one thing that I have always prioritised even more than work: social life. No matter how busy a time would be, I’ve always made sure to take time for socialising, going out, spending time with the people around me. Why? Because I know that’s what keeps me going and energises me. So much so that even the perspective of a potenital hangover when I know I have an essay due didn’t dissuade me from a night out. Giving abundant room for social time paces my days and gives me a structure to build my work around, no matter how controversial that might sound. Work to live and not live to work, peeps, and don’t make yourself conform to any expectactions of society without asking yourself whether that truly serves you.
On this note, I hope your 2021 was full of learnings, growth, and good memories, and that 2022 has just as much or more in store for you.