For the perfectionist in all of us

“Do you feel different?” a few people asked me, rhetorically, after my birthday last week. Surprisingly, I do feel different. Not because of my age, but because I visited my high school last weekend for homecoming. Upon arrival, I hugged my band directors whom I hadn’t seen in seemingly forever. I would have never, ever dared to do that three months ago. It was great to see familiar faces, watch our school win at football game (a rare occurrence), and reunite with marching band friends in the stands to play some tunes. All of them greeted me with warmth and enthusiasm, and asked for all the stories behind what they saw on Snapchat. I told them what they wanted to hear, that college had been really nice and that I had a lot of free time, made friends easily, and although hadn’t gone to a party yet, I often found myself busy on Friday nights. 

When high schoolers ask me what college is like, I don’t want to give them false promises. The college experience varies. It is different for me, the same way it’s different for an engineer, the student who barely got in, or one here on full scholarship. The classes, the opportunities, the struggles and the triumphs will all vary from person to person. Also, I barely know how things are around here. I know that when I tell them. These friends ask me about their chances, if they can go certain places if they have x, y, z things on their resume. I assure them that they’ll be fine, they’ll reach where they need to be. It’s a lie, because I know it’s entirely up to luck, but I tell them not to overwork themselves, to sleep and eat well and take care of their health anyway. 

In this world, it’s so easy to get caught up in goals and eternal self improvement. So many people are working harder, and are also smarter than you. To want to surpass them all is natural. I know that’s how I used to live in high school. I’d always compare my accomplishments to someone else’s in order to judge where I stood. Why wasn’t I better? How could I be better? There was always a competition. One person says, “I only got 6 hours of sleep.” and someone else has to say, “Yeah, but I only got 3 hours.” Sometimes I still see this kind of dumb argument. Why is neglecting yourself perceived as better? Forgetting about your health is the easiest way to fail. Your body is a machine and can only handle so much stress, lack of sleep, or nutrients. In order to achieve a result, you can’t lose sight of the reason they’re working. Comfort, happiness.

During midterms, and the rest of the semester during which you can fix your midterm scores, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Treating yourself like a slave because of ambition is never right. It’s possible to work hard and take care of yourself too. Create a schedule to study, and turn down all last minute excursions unless you know for sure you can afford the lost time. Indulge in self care every day. It’s hard to take a bubble bath or anything remotely nice in a communal shower, but sometimes the warmth of bed covers a little earlier than usual is a good place to start. This school is full of students who work harder than they think. Or they think about work too much.

Living that way is perhaps the only thing that I regret about high school. That I spent more time analyzing the way I lived. It got better during senior year, but I used to think so much about how much would my chances, or scholarship change if I scored 100 points higher on the SAT, or got a letter grade higher in a class. If certain things were a different way, what would change. Sometimes, there are things you cannot change. You can’t change the parents who you were born to, you can’t change how old you are, or the limitations society places on you for that. The world is unjust. You can fix it if it’s your goal, but otherwise you’re wasting time. You have to be realistic, open minded, and throw out expectations. You can identify what you want to do, the obstacles that stop you from reaching your goals, and just keep working towards them without feeling entitled to a result. Naturally, everyone changes. Because of situations and circumstances we’re forced through. It’s okay if you can’t feel it in a single day, but do realize that changes happen every day. How you choose to spend your day, every day has the ability to completely change the person you are in a year.