America has an obsession with intelligence and academic accolades. From film and television to books and magazines, Ivy League prestige, early career success, and kid geniuses have been the gold standard. Throughout my academic career, I have been encouraged to pursue AP courses, sports, honor societies, after-school educational programs, and more to manufacture the perfect on-paper student. While my participation in these activities was met with some praise, I met my achievements with a lack of confidence. When your entire academic career is based upon being the best and ‘beating’ other students for your spot at the university of your choosing, you begin to feel as though you are never quite doing enough. Feeling as though you aren’t doing enough to prepare yourself for the future seems to be a relatively universal feeling for most university students. These feelings of inadequacy left me thinking about my collegiate career and how my unhealthy relationship with academic and professional success affect my view of myself and the work I produce.
American academia mirrors the capitalistic society that founded it. Many of the opportunities institutions offer are only attainable to those from specific backgrounds. Classism remains a massive issue within academic spaces, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge my privilege. While I am a first-generation college student, I was raised primarily by my grandfather. He put immense value on education and supported my interests emotionally and financially throughout most of my academic career, which I am incredibly grateful for.
Confession One: I lost my identity
I became so obsessed with being the perfect student and proving to myself that I could attend university and be successful that I gave up on hobbies and curiosities that brought me joy. I put academics before everything else in a way that wasn’t healthy. I saw poor grades as a direct reflection of my worth. If I did poorly on an exam, I would see myself negatively. I stopped doing certain extracurricular activities in hopes that it would give me more time to focus on grades, sports, and interests that would attract colleges. My decision to stop certain hobbies for a college application seems so silly to me now and is one of my biggest regrets. However, Now that I attend university, I have picked up my old hobbies and have allowed myself time and the ability to try new things.
Confession Two: I am never content with myself and the things I create
The pressure of higher education has made me overly critical of myself. I was constantly picking apart assignments and accomplishments, forcing myself to find flaws. The consistent negative overanalyzing is exhausting. I became hyper-aware of the intensity of university and the continued competitiveness that will follow me through the post-graduation job application process. Even an A in a course has room for improvement and dissection in my mind. This constant critiquing in the classroom bled into other aspects of my life and impacted the way I saw myself.
Confession Three: I created a strict timeline for myself
As a woman, I often feel as though I am soon to expire, a notion only reinforced by current societal beliefs and media. In the eyes of society, a woman's value is directly influenced by their age; our twenties are glamorized and categorized as a person's best years. A woman's twenties are their prime. You are expected to have your Sex in the City montage as soon as you graduate college– the ‘quintessential recent college grad taking on the big city with fifty dollars and ambition’ trope where you’ve magically landed a gorgeous inner-city loft with amazing views and a job at a Fortune 500. I’ve begun a race against a fictional clock, setting up goals for my life based upon the idea that once I am 30, my life will practically devolve. I’ve put so much time into perfecting and revising the twenty-something timeline. As though there is no room for socializing and travel after the 29th year.
As my second year of university comes to an end, I realize that your happiness is just as important as your goals and ambitions. I think that it's incredibly easy for students to allow education to consume their lives. In a way, I feel hypocritical writing an article about how perfectionism. My goal with this article is not to tell students to be less involved or not to pursue their passions with such enthusiasm but to take a step back and evaluate their well-being. Are you sleeping enough, eating, or have you done something for your enjoyment recently? While I have made these realizations and have been working hard to correct them, it's an ongoing process, and sometimes when you think you’ve made progress, you take a step back and realize you’ve only replaced previous habits with new ones.