Advice Column

Academic Burnout Solutions

study life goals advice

Dear Dr. Joy: How can I study for 10+ hours a day without getting depressed and how can I make myself get used to it?

How can I study for 10+ hours a day without getting depressed and how can I make myself get used to it?

Q: I must study continually for 10 months non-stop, then I have exams in 7 subjects (only one exam for each in those 10 months) and the results will determine my future. I’m supposed to study +10 hours a day and I’m not used to such hours.

Alright, yes, I’ll admit it. I’d love to have an advice column. I’m receiving requests on Quora to answer more questions than I have time to answer. I’ve decided to start publishing my answers here. 

Dr. Joy’s advice:

If you find a way to relate to what you are studying and see it as an opportunity for rapid personal growth instead of a test that determines who you will become, it will be interesting.

Over the past six years, I’ve spent many months where I studied far more than 10 hours a day doing research for my books but I connected the reading/studying I was doing to my ultimate goal of helping people thrive more which gave it meaning that energized me to do more. Poke at the way you’re thinking about this and try to find different ways to look at the situation.

Find thoughts that feel better and then reinforce those thoughts so they become your main way of perceiving this situation. 

10 Hours is not as long as it sounds

Also, 10 hours sounds like a lot but it isn’t. Most workers have a commute to the job, work 8 hours and then have a commute home. After they do all of that many of them still find time to raise a family, fall in love, volunteer in their community, read for pleasure, and more. #1 is giving up the television and you’ll be amazed at how much time you have. Also, do take breaks to stand up, stretch, breathe deeply. The refreshment of that will more than make-up for the time it takes.

In good weather take the time to study outside.

Also, lessen the “determine your future” bit of this. It may determine your immediate opportunities but YOU determine your future. You aren’t creating a finished product through your studying efforts. You will never be a finished product. Humans continually evolve and grow. Some humans who became wildly successful didn’t even begin the activity that made them household names until they were past the age when most people retire. So let go of the “will determine my future” belief and make this a time of developing you into someone who knows more than you know today.

I wish you all the best.

What common mistakes do people make when choosing a life partner?

advice column choosing a partner

Dear Dr. Joy,

“The heart wants what the heart wants,” or do we go for a cold judgment approach.

What should be some good guidelines and misconceptions to be careful about

Dr. Joy’s Advice:


They settle for someone who isn’t exactly what they want in a partner and:

  • Think they can live with the absence of the missing qualities, or
  • Think they can change the person (The only person who can change anyone is the person who is changing and that doesn’t happen unless/until they want to change.)

Many people make these mistakes without conscious thought. They want the fantasy they build around the person they are dating and don’t think thoughtfully about whether traits that they’ve overlooked will always be acceptable. For example, Terri loved Ron’s adventurous and spontaneous nature. He made her life more fun and she envisioned a future that was better than she’d ever dreamed of with Ron at her side. But she had also always dreamed of being a mother and when the first baby arrived her outlook about Ron’s adventurousness changed.

It was no longer a good thing that he often did things that were somewhat dangerous and always seemed to be learning a new sport that put his life at risk (sky-diving, deep sea diving, motocross, etc.) Then her best friend’s husband was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to work when her friend was expecting their first child and Terri began worrying even more about ending up raising their child on her own if Ron had an accident during one of his adventures. She attempted to convince Ron to stop risking his life but that only drove a wedge between them. Ron felt that he hadn’t changed and he shouldn’t have to change. Even if Terri had thought far enough into the future to consider how she would feel once they were parents, she probably would have assumed Ron would change the way she planned to change. Most people make such assumptions and don’t have the conversation.

They don’t wan to rock the boat now that they think they’ve found the perfect partner.

The time to rock the boat is before you get married.

Do you really want to marry someone who frequently becomes intoxicated or high?

Consider how that could impact your ability to accumulate assets. If your spouse is busted with illegal drugs in your home or car the assets can be seized. If your spouse gets a DUI, the legal bills and increased auto insurance costs will be a significant financial burden and if an accident that harms someone occurs it could wipe you out.

Consider who will take care of the children if your spouse is frequently intoxicated or high.

Someone needs to be sober to save the children in case the house catches on fire. That sounds a bit worrisome, but how would you feel if a fire occurred and your child died because both parents were intoxicated? While it may be a lot of fun to get a good buzz by sharing a bottle or two of wine when you’re dating, it is not nearly as much fun when one of you needs to remain sober to take care of the children or when you can’t drink because you’re pregnant.

Many people marry for looks. When one of my daughters was about 11 she was very into how guys looked and went gaga over ones she thought were hot. I told her that looks weren’t everything and that when she considered a relationship with a guy she should ask herself if she’d still like him if she lost her sight or his appearance was changed in an accident. Surprisingly, she listened to me and I’m glad. But many men and women focus their partner’s physical appearance. While you want to find your partner attractive, looks should not be one of the top 5 criteria.

One way to avoid making a mistake is to decide what you want in a partner before you are in a relationship. Don’t set the bar too low. I spoke to a woman one time who said, “My next boyfriend is going to have a job and a car.” She didn’t say “a safe car” or a “reliable car.” Just a car. She also didn’t say “a steady job” or a “good job.” Apparently, any car and job would make a man good enough for her.

Don’t set your sights too low.

Go for an equal and if you have low self-esteem, aim high and work on your self-esteem.

Talk about your long range plans and desires. My husband has never lived in the country and I long to return to country living when we retire. He is okay with country living as long as we are close to a college because he wants to teach during retirement. I decided I was okay with that limitation to the location of our retirement home. There are many rural areas with great Universities in the area. But what if he hadn’t been willing to leave the city and we hadn’t talked about it?

We didn’t talk about my husband’s desire to go back to school to earn his Doctorate but fortunately, I believe in lifelong learning and am supportive. But many spouses would resist this undisclosed goal because of the cost involved.

Deep conversations and a willingness to let the relationship go if you discover things you don’t want to spend the rest of your life living with. The willingness to let go is what is most often lacking. It is easier when you realize that you can love someone and let them go and not feel heartache if you continue loving them in a fond way. It is when we attempt to stop loving someone we love that our heart aches. Our hearts know how to fall in love. They don’t know how to stop loving. But loving does not mean we have to stay together.

Letting go also requires trust that this isn’t our last chance or our best chance. I went through a lot of shenanigans (blind dates, internet dating, going to mixers, etc.) looking for love after my divorce. Where did I meet my husband? He was in my backyard golfing with a friend of mine’s husband. He lived 1/2 mile away. We’d both been invited to their Christmas party but he didn’t go one year and I didn’t go the next.

Opportunities for love are all around us. We will not find the right one when we are clinging to the wrong one.

I wish everyone as much love as they can handle in their life.

All the best to you.

How can I know what I want from life or why am I alive?

Advice about life and goals

I’m 23 yo guy. I just graduated with a major I don’t like (architecture), I got refused in an interview yesterday for a teaching job. even my love for my family is fading, they’re great, I am just not capable of loving. I have no life goal, I don’t know what I love in life. I feel like a dead man!

Dr. Joy’s Advice:


Please consult your doctor to check for depression.

Most people don’t have a life goal, especially not at 23. If they do, it usually changes many times over the course of their life. You’re holding yourself to a high standard and no one else is doing that (unless you have a parent who likes to find problems with you and fix them). If that is the problem being found, you’ve got a lot more going right than many 23-year-olds.

You’ve got a degree under your best. Okay, so you’ve decided you don’t like what you studied but the thing is many jobs require a degree but not a specific one.

What don’t you like about what you studied? You know what to avoid when you’re looking for jobs.

Were you really refused for a job, or was another candidate simply viewed as a better choice for that particular job? Some jobs have hundreds of applicants and to feel refused because they selected another candidate is being very harsh on yourself. Try seeing it as one step closer to getting a job. Also, even if you did crash and burn during the interview, you got some experience and you now know that you need to practice. Ask a family member or friend to give you mock interviews so you can practice and ask them to be hard on you so you’re ready for anything that comes up.

Many people don’t interview well and the cure is practice to gain confidence and seeing an interview as one out of many opportunities and trusting that the right opportunity will feel easy, not terribly difficult.

Many young adults your age are pulling further away from their birth family. It is not an unusual feeling. Non-human animals often leave their parents upon maturity and never return. I’m not saying you should do that, just that pulling away isn’t all that unusual.

Everyone, even you, is capable of loving. Your early life experience may have taught you to suppress emotions so they may be buried, but you are capable of love. Pay attention to how you feel. Tell yourself that you will notice your emotions. Emotions are not your enemy. They are actually designed to guide us toward self-actualization by feeling good when we’re moving in that direction and tell us we’re heading the wrong way with negative emotion.

Your post was brief but in many ways, it had elements that sound like catastrophizing or awfulizing, which is making a single incident (job interview) into a permanent and pervasive problem. Learning to see things as temporary situations will help you feel good. Nothing in life is permanent.

The “feeling like a dead man” comment makes me think that you’ve either been taught to suppress your emotions so you can’t feel their guidance (this is reversible) or that you’re depressed. In either case, I do encourage you to seek help. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to feel better.

I wish you all the best.

Another Opinion: Retirement Adjustments

In my Another Opinion posts, I answer questions that were asked of syndicated advice columns–providing another opinion.

In the July 30, 2015, Charlotte Observer a recent retiree asked Amy Dickinson how to respond to the question, “What do you do all day?” The retiree stated he was feeling put down for no longer working full time and signed his letter – Retired and Happy

Amy’s advice was fine, as far as it went, “Use it to begin a conversation that might be interesting.” (paraphrased)

Going deeper with the answer would be of more benefit to Retired and Happy.

Humans use labels to describe ourselves. Many labels are attached to us even before we’re born (i.e. our age, racial heritage, socioeconomic class, etc.) Others labels are attached to us as soon as we’re born (gender, healthy, unhealthy, fussy, good, etc.). This pattern continues throughout life.  We then internalize those labels and use them to define who we are. Our self-esteem is often tied to the labels we accept as self-defining. Life is a series of stages that we pass through. We define ourselves by the labels attached to us at specific stages (student, adult, single, married, divorced, doctor, graduate, lawyer, businessman, athlete, parent, retiree, etc.)

When we transition from one stage (label) to another it is important that we stop judging our worth based on a label we have outgrown.

  • The former student who continues to judge herself by always being right becomes afraid to take risks she should take because she is still attempting to get straight A’s. As a businesswoman, she has to learn to take risks if she wants to succeed.
  • The newly married individual can experience significant adjustments such as making sure the plans he makes don’t conflict with his wife’s plans.
  • The college football linebacker has to adjust his diet when he gets a desk job because he is no longer burning as many calories.
  • The working woman decides to stay home to raise her children has to adjust her perception of self or she will be frustrated at the lack of intellectual stimulation and adult interaction she receives, which can result in her seeming needy to her spouse who is still going to an outside job each day.
  • The wife whose stay-at-home husband returns to the workforce after the children go to college must adjust her expectations about the chores he will continue doing at home, or he will feel overburdened.
  • The recently disabled individual must adjust the basis of his self-worth if it was tied to his physical prowess or face extra and unnecessary problems with plummeting self-esteem on top of dealing with the physical challenges.

The recent retiree who feels a bit defensive when people ask him what he does all day is reflecting that he feels less valuable now that he is no longer going to working. Seniors have significant value that is unique to them–the wisdom each of us gains from life experiences. He is simply using old criteria to judge the worth of his current activities. A simple adjustment in the basis for his self-worth will enable him to see the question about how he spends his days as the innocent conversation it is and not a condemnation of his choice to retire. It may take a little work to adjust the basis because many of us are taught that we are only valuable when we are contributing through work, but a change of perception is possible and will make life better for him.

Until he makes this shift, he will have difficulty taking this common question into stride, despite his great answer, “Whatever I want.” He’ll enjoy his ability to do whatever he wants far more when he’s not fighting a sense that his value as a human being is less because he is retired. It’s not.



Another Opinion

Periodically I am going to post Another Opinion to questions asked of Amy Dickinson and Billy Graham. I’ve always loved reading advice columns and find that questions draw from me answers I was not aware I had until I hear the question.

Often I believe that the answers individuals are provided in the advice columns fall short. I also have an advantage. I am not limited to thde space constraints these syndicated columnists have although sometimes I may attempt to answer with as much brevity as they use. However, when larger examples are helpful I don’t know why newspapers don’t include a link to a deeper dive into the answer. Doing so could be a real public service.

The first one is titled, “Woman wants trip with mom” and indicates she is looking forward to a road trip with her mom to visit her brother. The problem is her Uncle who talks non-stop has invited himself to join them and neither of them want him to join them for the trip because they want one-on-one time together.

Where the brother they are visiting resides he would be most welcome. This accomplishes their goal of getting one-on-one time but does not make the uncle feel unappreciated or unloved.

It’s just another opinion. We all have one. This is mine. Today. Tomorrow it could be different.


This column was originally published July 17, 2015 in the Charlotte Observer.