My Thoughts on Stanford's Recent Suicides

In just the first three months of 2019, there have already been two students at Stanford who committed suicide.

In February, a Stanford graduate student, 26-year-old Ziwen “Jerry” Wang died by suicide. He was a fifth-year Ph.D. student in materials science and engineering.

Last Thursday, Kelly Catlin, a 23-year-old computational and mathematical engineering student and Olympic cycling medalist, died in her dorm at Stanford University.

A month before she committed suicide, Kelly described her struggle to balance school and cycling in a blog article on VeloNews. Many of her words resonated deeply with me, but I really wanted to share a specific paragraph that stuck out to me:

This is probably the point when you’ll expect me to say something cliché like, “Time management is everything.” …. but the truth is that most of the time, I don’t make everything work. It’s like juggling with knives, but I really am dropping a lot of them. It’s just that most of them hit the floor and not me.

As a full-time student taking 21 units this quarter while also trying to juggle a part-time job, side projects, and all of the other normal things that a student wants to enjoy in life (e.g. sleep, relationships, exercise, and hobbies), I’m often asked by friends and co-workers how I “manage to balance everything.” 

I don’t have an answer.

Just like Kelly and so many other students I know, I often struggle to do it all. And even though sometimes I’m very much aware that I tend to bite off more than I can chew, my stubborn self still doesn’t want to compromise. And just when I think I have some sort of work-life-school “balance,” life happens, something goes wrong, or another opportunity decides to pop up.

I have refrained from writing posts on my blog about how to be “productive” or advice on how to “balance it all,” because being “more productive” doesn’t help that much when you’ve already stretched yourself so thin doing so many things. There have been times where I really was working at my highest productive capacity, and I still couldn’t get everything on my to-do list done. This is a reality that I’ve just had to accept during my 4 years at Stanford.

I am not here to judge someone on whether you are the type of person who likes to “focus on doing a few things right” or be involved with a lot of cool projects going on all at once. I am also not here to provide any personal advice because, in my experience, I believe that whether or not a specific “strategy” succeeds or not varies depending on each individual.

However, there’s something my professor said during class upon discussing the most recent Stanford suicide that I think we all really need to ingrain in our minds:

“I think the biggest issue that you all face as individuals is that you’re too hard on yourself. And that’s to be expected, I understand it. I’m the same way. And you compare yourself to other people..and everybody looks like they’re smart and having a good time and they’ve got it under control. The truth is that nobody does. You’re human beings. You are all incredible’s normal to have concerns or feelings. You’re the future, and you guys have your lives ahead of you. You’re all going on to do fantastic things.  That I can guarantee.

Hearing my professor's words reminded me of the importance of being kind to myself, especially as I approach finals week next week.

I accept that this struggle will be one of the many sacrifices that I’m willing to make in order to achieve my dreams.

I accept that on most days, my to-do list will be larger than my ability to actually do them.

But I also accept that because I am often juggling so much at the same time, I can’t always do everything perfectly. 

I know that I’m not alone in that for so many students, our university’s system with dealing with mental health simply isn’t working. But aside from the deeply urgent mental health crisis that exists on Stanford and so many other campuses nationwide, I know that I can do a better job of learning to accept and be kind to myself. I also know that I need to trust that everything will be okay, even if it feels like it won’t be.

During this finals season (at least for us at Stanford), I know that we’re all ambitious, driven, and hard-working students mainly focused on doing well on our exams and projects.

However, please don’t forget to be kind to yourselves.

Announcement: This recent post was inspired by the statements my professor (William Abrams) made during lecture. I’m really excited to have him as one of my guests for my new podcast launching in the Spring on my blog as well as on Thrive Global’s special section, Thrive on Campus. I’ve talked to many amazing people, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and CEO’s, but I’ve never been quite as excited as I am for you guys to listen to my conversation with Professor Abrams. He’s one of the most insightful, contemplative, wise, and well-spoken individuals that I have had the pleasure to speak with. Stay tuned!

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