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  • Jesika Kula

A New Chapter: A tale of Changing Direction, Burnout and the Importance of Connection

Updated: Oct 21


My father, mother, myself, my boyfriend and one of my besties (in order) posing with the large SFU sign

After six long, hard years, I'm happy to say that I officially graduated from university this October. While incredibly rewarding, let's just say that it was not a particularly easy journey. Not many know this, but my undergrad actually began in the faculty of Health Science. You see, I had chosen Health Science because I knew I wanted to make a difference and to help change the world (which for me at the time, meant becoming a doctor) - though that was short-lived. While Health Science is an excellent faculty and I have met many fantastic people through the program, ultimately, I found it just wasn't for me.


I like to consider myself an artistic person, and creativity was something I missed in the Health Sci courses. Craving a change, I ended up taking an IAT (Interactive Arts and Technology) elective. I want to give a huge shout out to Professor Susan Clements-Vivian, because if it weren't for her and her class IAT 110 (Visual Communication Design), a breadth class designed for non-SIAT majors, I:

  1. Would have likely never discovered SIAT (as it's run on Surrey campus and at the time I was exclusively in Burnaby), and;

  2. Had it not been for her words, a simple remark that stated I was doing well in her class and a question asking why I wasn't in SIAT, I would likely not have transferred over.

Upon transferring into SIAT, I had the opportunity to work with Susan many more times as a student, then later as a TA and Video Bytes Coordinator. SIAT has truly been a whirlwind of a degree (in the best way possible), and I value all of the friends and connections I made with my fellow, talented and driven peers, kind and caring staff, and insightful professors. Shout out to my friend Daniella (Danica) Valdez for being my ride or die (and helping to keep me sane) for the entirety of my degree.


While SIAT offered me many fantastic connections and opportunities, and I enjoyed the classes, I still wasn't sure how I was going to make an impact in the world.


That was when I discovered my first Entrepreneurship and Innovation class at SFU - Health Change Lab (a RADIUS and Chang Institute capstone course). It was in Health Change Lab (HCL) that I realized I could use my creativity, design, and business skills to create that change. HCL introduced the idea of social innovation and entrepreneurship as a means for problem-solving and for that I'm thankful. A thank you to Shawn Smith, Paola Articles, and Tamara Connell for running a supportive, hands-on, and impactful cohort. An equally large shout out to my then team, Cody de Leijer, Monique Sekhon, and Emma Hannaford who have all since been long graduated, for making the experience so impactful.


It was from there that I discovered the Certificate of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and enrolled in my first official class as a Certificate student, BUS 238 - Introduction to Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Another shout-out goes to Manny Padda for being such an incredible professor and mentor during my time in that course. My experience in BUS 238 really sold me on continuing with the rest of the certificate.


From there I discovered Make Change Studio and got to lead a class of 15 students on one of the most ambitious projects I've tackled to date - writing, illustrating, and publishing a children's book on textile sustainability (all in a short span of 6 weeks). Huge shout out to Stephanie Ostler and Naghmi Shireen for allowing my crazy idea to move forward. I'm proud of all that we managed to accomplish! Second kudos to my co-lead Sophia Nguyen who helped orchestrate the planning side of the project!


Jump forward a couple of semesters and I was fortunate to have been selected as one of the winners of the $5000 Charles and Eve Chang Award for Entrepreneurial Mindset. It was there that I got to meet Charles Chang himself, and Dr. Sarah Lubik. Little did I know it, but that was also the day that ended up changing the trajectory of my career path as I knew it. Not long after, I began working for the Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship part-time while continuing my studies at SFU.


1.5 months into my new job the pandemic hit.


At the same time that I was working for the Chang Institute, I was also working two other jobs, working on a rather large personal project with a valued friend and upholding a rather busy social life. When the pandemic hit, I found it to be a bit of a blessing in disguise. That is to say, I in no way or form want to diminish the global impact this pandemic has had and continues to have on the world. Many people lost their jobs, lives, and loved ones, and continued diligence and vaccination are critical for the world moving forward, but I digress.


The pandemic ended many chapters for me and opened up a new path I hadn't previously considered. That summer I was promoted to Communications Coordinator at the Chang Institute, where I currently work. I am so grateful for the guidance and mentorship I received and continue to receive in my role (shout out to Dr. Sarah Lubik, Ben Chow, and Lynn Warburton). The Chang Institute and Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection have been such a pivotal period of growth for me and being surrounded by such innovative individuals really inspired me to go forth and forge my own path and to make the impact I've been wanting to make on the world.


While my time at SFU as a student (and my current time as a staff) has overall been a fabulous experience, I think it's important to mention that a lot can happen over six years, and in my case, burnout was one of them. At the end of my 2nd year, I hit a wall. Suddenly, I found myself struggling to upkeep my jobs, courses, hobbies, and social obligations. The world became a scary place and I felt as though I was letting everyone around me down. And in all honesty, sometimes I still feel like that. I don't feel like mental health in the context of higher education is talked about as often as it should be. SFU offered me so many pivotal experiences, but it was also the last straw that broke me, and I've spent the last 4 years re-building my stamina and mental well-being back up.


Did you know Burnout recovery can take anywhere between 1 and 3 years, and in some cases can even take up to a decade? For me, it took 4 years.


Suffice to say, being a young adult can be hard. But being a young adult who doesn't know how to say no can be harder. While I wouldn't wish burnout on anyone, I'm grateful for the perspective it gave me. Four years out and sometimes I still get overwhelmed, anxious, and caught in a vicious cycle of self-doubt, but I now know the importance of setting boundaries (with others and with myself).


I'm happy to report I'm generally now in a much better place, working on restoring my physical and mental health (which took a hit during my burnout), working full-time as the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship at SFU, and, inspired by my struggles with mental health, I am now the founder of Seedling Art Co., a mental health-focused, eco-friendly art, and journaling company (shout out to my fabulous teammates, Kim Bassan and Diana Tran).


Graduating from SFU has left me with a lot to reflect on. I believe higher education has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and understanding how to think (learning to problem solve and question things from an analytical point of view). But I also believe university isn't for everyone. While the higher learning was valuable in my case, in all honesty,


The most valuable things I gained from university were the wonderful friends and connections I made along the way.


Thank you for taking the time to read this, rant over. I just want to put a disclaimer. If you didn't get a specific call out, please know that you are equally important to my growth over the last several years. Thank you for being a part of my journey!


#recentgrad #graduate #upwardandonward #BA #SFU

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