I used to get my high from being the smartest girl in the room. Not necessarily the one with the highest I.Q., but the one most well-read and most prepared. Maybe I could not be the prettiest or the most likable, but I could get the highest grades. I worked very hard for this position. It meant ignoring social invites to the point of no longer receiving them and never missing a single class despite feeling sick.
Fresh out of high school, ready to take take on college
I have always enjoyed learning. It brings me great joy to learn new things and allow my mind to expand. Somewhere along the way, I let my extremist personality take over and tell me that grades were of utmost importance. Success in school and in others eyes mattered. To be important and desirable, I believed striving for perfection was essential.
However, no matter how hard I worked or how many hours I put into studying, I often failed to be the smartest. Staying on the top at all times is no easy feat- the top must be thought about almost constantly and never forgotten, even when tempted to be “lazy.” Hard work is imperative to doing well, but some things just come more naturally for others. Sometimes people are simply better.
This need for success came from a lot of my own insecurities. Academics started as my saving grace, giving me something to focus on after coming out of a dark period. Unfortunately, they quickly took over and became an obsession. When I didn’t avoid a social invite and actually went, I often felt anxious the whole time about what I should be studying. It is a very dangerous thing when we allow something, some quality or hobby, to become our identity, which is precisely what I did.
Typical Friday night in college
I speak of myself in past tense like this because I have since changed my attitude towards school. I am not sure what exactly led to the change. Academia, which was once my anchor, began to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I began to hate the way it stacked people up against each other and created such a cut-throat environment. It was all so ridiculous, the way students were made to perform to get good marks. My church at the time was studying the book of Ecclesiastes. For me, the book highlighted the meaninglessness of “success” and “striving for the wind.” Putting all of my time and energy into making good grades and being the perfect student did nothing for the world around me. It was all about self. It did not better any of my relationships, especially not the most important one, my relationship with Christ. It did not make me nicer or kinder or more understanding, it made me too busy for this and too tired for that. I began to realize how much GREATER my life could be if I would just let go of the need for perfectionism and success.
Now, I still care about my grades. I am operating in a system where grades matter. Now, however, I don’t measure my worth by my GPA. I don’t let grades rule my decisions. I gladly lounge on the couch with my husband when I don’t feel like studying and eagerly agree to hang out with friends a little later than I maybe should. (The funny thing is, even when I relaxed and stopped studying all the time, my grades did not really change much. Turns out, anxiety and tunnel vision was all self-imposed and not even necessary to my success!)
I titled this blog post “the power of gratefulness”, because I believe that when I am grateful, I am less anxious and more loving. Pride was a huge driver in my need to be a perfect student and it is likely the driver for many others. I felt the need to prove myself by making my place through my achievements. With true gratefulness, there is no room for pride. I focus on the things in which I am grateful: an opportunity to learn, the potential to change the world with the power of God working in me, and a beautiful support system all around. Now, every day, I mindfully and intentionally choose gratefulness.