Give yourself a break amid collegiate perfectionism

By EMILIE WOODS, Contributing Writer (ewoods@fandm.edu)

There are people who jam to party music seven nights a week on my floor. No matter the day, I can always count on them to provide me with some after-dinner tunes to put a little pep in my step. “What is with these people?” I think  to myself. My annoyance comes from more than the loudness of their music — I simply have trouble understanding their carefreeness.

While I feel like I’m always on the move, always with multiple things on my mind, these guys seem like they’re living the life. It’s as though they’ve figured out something that I haven’t yet. Despite their outward appearances, though, they probably don’t have it all figured out — none of us have. Each of us is dealing with the highs and lows of life, trying to make the right decisions every day. We want to get the best grades, spend time with our friends, keep the fittest bodies — you name it — and, at the same time, we are trying to hold it all together. I don’t know about you, but no one ever told me that holding it together was going to be this hard.

As a transfer student at F&M, I feel like a freshman in a sophomore’s body. I’ve done this college thing for a year already, but it still feels new, and some things are just not getting easier.

A wonderful woman who mentored me last year addressed the struggles that I was facing by saying, “Emilie, this is all just a part of growing pain.” I wrote it down right away because it made complete sense to me at that moment — it’s not just the amount of work that makes college so much more difficult than high school. We have thrown ourselves into an institution where we are expected to get good grades, to be involved, and manage our lives by ourselves all at once. Without any preparation whatsoever for this whirlwind, growing can most certainly hurt.

Over the last few weeks, this growing pain has been quite clear on campus. I’ve heard the grumbles. I’ve seen the tears and the breakdowns. I’ve felt the exhaustion around me, and I’ve been through it all myself. It is almost two weeks before Thanksgiving, and we have had it. It’s that time of the year when we are being slammed with papers, projects, and presentations on top of our regular homework, and there just doesn’t seem to be time for it all.

Unfortunately for us, perfectionism runs in our young, driven culture. At the end of every road, we have been taught that the next one will just be harder, and now we’re at the point where the end of this road is the real world, the working world.

So we push ourselves every day, trying to do our absolute best, and, in the process, many of us forget to cut ourselves some slack. We forget that we’re young and that making mistakes is still a part of our nature. We push aside our emotions and drive ourselves to be perfect, and, in the end, we fall apart.

This, clearly, is quite unhealthy. A few weeks ago someone actually told me that she doesn’t eat dinner anymore because she has too much homework. The absurdity here is almost too much to comment on. When did we forget about our human needs and put academic success in front of it?

Everyone, please, take a breath. We need to stamp out this perfectionist culture and free ourselves from its control, because it’s not making anyone happy. We may live in a competitive environment, but that environment is not going to go away by treating ourselves as secondary to other obligations.

At a time when we are still learning how to independently run our lives, we have to leave room for ourselves. It’s the only way we will survive these crazy college days, and, like my music-jamming neighbors, maybe all we need is a little carefreeness after all.

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