Ask A Professor: Advice Column


Professor Jim Ellefson with a creature

Every few weeks, our advice column editor sits down with one of Champlain College’s faculty or staff members and asks them your questions. This week, Professor Jim Ellefson gives his advice.

I literally have no motivation to do my work anymore. But I can’t graduate without doing my work… should I just drop out at this point? – Senioritis

From Jim Ellefson’s Perspective: “My feeling is that this person must crawl to the finish line. Crawl to the finish line. And C’s get degrees. You don’t have to get an A to get a degree, you can get a C. And then, when you talk to an employer, they’re going to make an individual decision anyway. They’re going to make a decision on who you are, and your grade point average won’t be the most important factor in their decision. Get the degree.

“What if this person is aware that C’s get degrees,” I asked Jim, “but they just have trouble getting to do the work?”

I think this person should summon his/her/their inner resources and wrap their fingers around a degree. And if that doesn’t work, then take a semester off. If not [and he/she/they drops out], then this person will most likely end up doing a boring, uninteresting, unfulfilling job. There’s nothing like a boring, subservient job to get you re-motivated. And I’ve done a lot of them. Maybe they’ll luck out [and get a good job].

“But you don’t trust those chances?”

“No, no, I wouldn’t. What you have to understand is that going to college is a highly privileged situation. And to be left on the outside is, I think, for many of us, it’s an experience people would rather have abstractly than concretely. I think this person would rather read about having a boring, subservient job than have one. A subservient, soul-sucking job.

Jim broke away from answering to ask, “What would be best for you?

“Me?” I said. “I guess, I would like to live with or near my loved ones. And make a financially stable living off of my writing. I know it’s not that viable though.”

I think you can definitely do that. You can definitely get a day job and do that.

Knowing Jim, these words probably go out to any student at Champlain, and that includes you Senioritis. Whatever career you want to get, Jim thinks you can do it. So crawl to that finish line.

From a Student’s Perspective: As a fellow senior, I know what it’s like to have absolutely no motivation. So I think Jim’s right in that you should try to cross that finish line. You’re so close. But a break always does you good. Find a good show, one that’s funny and easy to watch, and just play it. Take an hour to do something you enjoy, every day.

For me, it’s something as simple as talking to a friend. And honestly, it sounds like you should talk to someone. Maybe not a professional but someone willing to listen. Eat with someone, vent to them (with their permission), and then after that, talk about whatever. Again, this is what works for me personally because socializing often helps recharge my battery. It also sounds like a bad idea but maybe try doing your work with a friend. But only someone who is serious about doing their work. Just having someone with you is a great way to keep your energy up. I know energy isn’t the same as motivation, but it’s a good way to keep you going.

What’s the best way to fight bureaucracy and stick it to The Man? – Political Polly

From Jim Ellefson’s Perspective: “Buy a house and stay in one place. And get involved in the community. One of the most radical things you can do is stay in one place. Stay in one place and invest in it. So many people stay in places where they have no investment. And the invested people can change the world.

From a Student’s Perspective: Never be passive about the things you’re passionate about. If there’s one thing that The Man likes, it’s when people do what he wants them to do. So I say, do what you like and never stop using your voice. Find an available platform, speak out, and find the things you want to advocate for.

Jim also told me something while I was in his office. He said that I’m writing things that could potentially save someone’s life. That I’m using my freedom in order to free others. He was paraphrasing a Toni Morrison quote there but I think every one of us is capable of that. I hope that helps, Polly.

I’m a pro-writing student and I love writing. I can spend hours doing it when I have a story in mind. But lately, I’ve been experiencing burnout more frequently. I know I still enjoy writing but I’m worried that there’ll come a point where I won’t like it anymore. What do I do? – Stressed at Best

From Jim Ellefson’s Perspective: “I think this person has to realize that every writer experiences this. This is part of the entree. If you order the meal, this comes with it. There are dozens of writers that write about this too.

One of them is Annie Dillard. There’s a book called Holy the Firm and this person probably doesn’t have time to read because they’re in college. But Annie Dillard lost her motivation and interest in writing. Unfortunately, this person is going to have to read this story. I know this is a college student and they don’t have time to read but it’s like five pages.

This person has to read “The Death of the Moth” by Annie Dillard. We’re also going to tell this person what this person already knows, that writing’s not for wimps.

From a Student’s Perspective: I feel this on a personal level. So I’m going to tell you something that probably contradicts what a lot of teachers have told you in the past, you don’t need to write every day. You can take a break. Find a place to stop and just stop. Or shorten your writing periods. Just write a line or two instead of going until the next chapter. Pace yourself so that you’re not forcing yourself to keep going until you burn out. Your health is a priority.

Writing every day is also just unrealistic. You’ve got stuff to do. Like Jim says, you’re a college student so you probably don’t even have the time to read. But if you do take breaks, definitely take a moment to read or watch a plot-driven show and absorb what you see. If you notice a scene or a character that is especially captivating, try to translate it into your own writing when you return to it. There are ways to work on your skills that don’t involve actual writing.

I do hope you keep writing, Stressed. Like Jim says, it’s not for wimps. So stay strong and keep going!

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