Wellness

The Pressure of Achievement and Perfection in College

July 23, 2018

Hello THM Fam! I’m so excited to welcome our newest member of Team Maven to the blog today. Nicole reached out a few months ago about gaining some experience within the blogging space and I was thrilled to be able to offer her this experience. Truly I think I’m learning more from her than she is from me. Nicole is helping with some of the THM events happening on the east coast and some Instagram content. She’s also sharing her words of wisdom here on the blog today. As you’ll soon discover, she is wise beyond her years and has a VERY big future ahead of her. But I’ll let her take it from here. Here’s Nicole!

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Hi everyone! I am so excited to be posting here today. I’ve been following Davida since I was a wee tot of just 16, and she has been a huge role model for me through the process of beating my disordered eating habits and learning to treat my body and mind with kindness and compassion.

I am now 20 years old and studying Psychology and Business at Georgetown University, which I like to refer to as my personal Hogwarts. I am a born and raised New Yorker and am currently soaking up all the NYC vibes and doing all the exploring and adventuring I can before I’m back in DC. A few things that make me super happy are really good coffee a great journaling sesh, long deep talks with friends, and Harry Potter. 🙂

Now that we’ve got the introductions out of the way, I wanted to write this post on a topic that is near and dear to my heart and that I have been ruminating on since I first stepped foot at Georgetown 2 years ago— unrealistic pressures and striving for perfection. It’s something no one in our society is immune to. In the world of Instagram and social media and our insane work culture, comparison is unavoidable and external pressures can be debilitating.

I see women and men all the time falling prey to these unrealistic expectations that society often puts on us, and I just want to scream, “You’re perfect just the way you are. Why do you want to be like someone else anyway?” Having gone through the hours of scrolling through feeds of people I wanted to become, I know what it’s like to feel so unworthy, so absolutely lost and alone, and feeling that if only I had this person’s body or life, I would be happy.

It took several years of hard work, training myself to reverse my thought patterns, to accept that I am on my own journey that has nothing to do with anyone else’s. I had to convince myself over and over again that perfection was not worth wasting my time or my life for. Slowly, the message began to sink in. I began to believe it and live it, loosening the rigid rules I lived by and letting myself relax into the unknown.

Interestingly, the moment I made the choice to be more self-compassionate, I became aware of how pervasive this drive toward perfection and success was among my peers and how starkly my own new self-love stood against what was obviously the norm— this belief that we are never good enough as we are.

While I do think it’s so important to want to always be pushing yourself to be the best you can be, I think there is a difference between understanding your own limitations and using others’ successes as some sort of marker to measure up to.

The moment I stepped foot on campus, all I heard was comparison and self-deprecation. It seemed that everyone was aspiring to some arbitrary standard they had decided was to rule their college life.

It was as if everyone looked at college as one big Instagram feed, one that had to be as colorful and put-together and perfect as could be. And while everyone knows that the others’ feeds are nothing more than a highlight reel, they still find themselves wrought with self-doubt and jealousy when pondering another’s account, wondering how they too can be so successful.

Two things that stood out to me right away in college were the intense preoccupation with physical appearance, particularly the size of one’s body, and academic success.

I would see it in the dining hall, when three identically tiny blonde girls walked past me with just a plate of lettuce and some sad tomatoes for their dinner.

I saw it in the gym, where the same girls would be sprinting on the treadmill, no matter what day or time I would enter.

I heard the conversations, the self-deprecating comments— “I can’t believe I ate that entire burger today. I feel so fat.”

“I have to do two hours of cardio on the weekends to burn off all the alcohol I drink; otherwise I’d be 1000 pounds.”

“ I never eat bread because it makes me gain weight like crazy.”

And the one that never fails to make my right eye twitch uncontrollably…

“Isn’t peanut butter, like, really bad for you?”

Honestly, I always get irritated when I hear people say these things, but the truth is, I’m not mad at them. It’s not their fault they haven’t been introduced to intuitive eating or the HAES movement or body positivity. It’s not their fault that they probably come from families and friend groups where dieting was always normalized. But it makes me so angry at the institutions that normalize this, without taking action to educate and inform.

Georgetown has a substantial percentage of eating disorders and an alarming amount of general disordered eating habits among its student body, but I am sure it’s not the only college with such staggering statistics.

It’s the sad reality that putting a bunch of young people together breeds comparison and self-inflicted pressure.

I’m thankful to be far enough removed from my old disordered tendencies that behaviors and comments such as these no longer affect me.  I value my mental sanity and joy over wearing the smallest size jeans. I learned the hard way that being tiny does not gain me friends or happiness or success, but only made me miserable and withdrawn. A shell of myself. Even worse, I see how these girls add to their already hefty stress levels from our vigorous coursework with these unrealistic eating and exercise goals.

We go to a school where in addition to the perfect appearance, one must maintain as close as possible to a perfect GPA. Freshmen get internships at the Hilltop and spend hours there between classes, just to build up a formidable resume and wide network. Students often choose to spend hours toiling over an essay or studying for an exam in favor of hanging out with friends or watching Netflix. Having a free summer is both rare and highly frowned upon; we are all encouraged to be working, interning, or volunteering abroad.

And look, on the one hand, I think it’s great that Georgetown creates such a strong work ethic. We’re all ambitious, hard-working, and eager to succeed.  We know we’re in school to learn, and we take our education seriously. But it scares me that at the young ages of 18-22 we are being taught that it is more important to be at home with the books than out with friends or just taking some time for our hobbies.

It bothers me that after a tremendously difficult year, I feel mounting pressure to be doing at least 3 “impressive” things this summer because otherwise I’ll have wasted it.

The truth is, this is a battle I am still fighting. I need to constantly remind myself that ten years from now, it will likely make little difference how many internships I had or how close to a 4.0 my GPA got.

What will matter are the relationships I am able to cultivate and grow and the values I choose to live my life by. What will matter is whether I am living my truth or playing some sad imitation game.

For a recovering perfectionist, it is hard to even consider setting aside my work to stay up all night with friends, or allowing myself to get a B in a class where I know I could easily get an A if I spent more hours studying.

But then, years ago, I couldn’t imagine not doing an intense hour-long workout every day or allowing myself to eat ice cream for dessert on a random Tuesday.

It took years to accept that these patterns were not serving me, to let them go, and to be my full authentic fearless self again. I refuse to once again fall prey to this idea that being successful means running myself into the ground and forfeiting all the things that make life fun.

Because to me, having a great college experience is about building friendships that will last forever, eating ice cream on the stoop of our dorm building as we talk about life, and learning from some of the most amazing and inspirational people that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by on a daily basis.

So if you are currently lucky enough to be at college, take this time to explore, to find the things that truly light your soul on fire, to make memories that will last you a lifetime. Don’t waste time on trying to be someone else or reaching for an arbitrary standard that someone else decided was a good goal. Just be you, and I promise that is where the magic happens.

Thank you again to Davida for sharing this wonderful space with me today. It is blogs like hers that remind me every day that I am worthy and more than enough exactly as I am.

If you would like to connect with me further, I blog over at Laughing My Abs Off about all things college, NYC, wellness, and living my best, most authentic, and most magical life.

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Huge thanks to Nicole for sharing her experience so vulnerably and openly. I feel so lucky to have her on Team Maven this summer!

College students – does this resonate with you? How about those of you post-college – did you feel this way? I know I did…

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  • Reply
    Kaitlyn @ Powered by Sass
    July 24, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Again, love this post and am happy to see this collaboration! As someone who struggled with disordered eating in college (theatre major + actor comparisons can be *rough*), I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to feel confident and happy in your own skin. Also, you’re right about the pristine GPA. In ten years, it won’t matter, but the relationships and friendships you build *will*. So wise! – Kaitlyn | http://www.poweredbysass.com

    • Reply
      Nicole Rosalyn
      July 25, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      Ooooh I can imagine with theater, my goodness. And I’m so happy to hear you confirm it hehe. It’s often necessary for me to keep repeating it to myself until it eventually sinks in. Thanks, Kaitlyn!

  • Reply
    Naomi
    July 24, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    Oh Nicole, this is the perfect post, and exactly what I needed to hear as I’m starting to think about my upcoming year at school. I went in last fall expecting to easily be able to balance having perfect grades, working out, having soul-nourishing talks until 4 in the morning, practicing violin and piano…but I quickly fell into spending all of my time on academics and kind of really neglected the other (and equally if not more important) aspects of my life At Grove City (and it sounds like Georgetown is the same), unless you’re spending practically every waking minute studying during the school year and getting prestigious internships during breaks, it’s not really “enough”. My goal/intention/whatever for this year is to “be my own person no matter what the circumstance.” Meaning I prioritize the things that are important to me and reject trying to fit into the picture perfect college student stereotype I so often idolize.
    Naomi recently posted…Summer Reads (Fab Finds Friday)

    • Reply
      Nicole Rosalyn
      July 25, 2018 at 5:18 pm

      Yes yes yes! That is the best goal/intention/whatever thing. Honestly, my college life did a complete 180 once I made that exact promise to myself. Just to keep being me. And to trust that this would never lead me astray and instead lead to all the friendships and opportunities I was so craving and trying to force before. Balance is a difficult and often impossible dream, and though we can strive toward it, we cannot be so hard on ourselves when we inevitably slip up. And honestly, I think life is SO much more interesting when it’s a bit unbalanced, when there are things to work on and things that make us want to grow. Thanks for reading, Naomi! <3

  • Reply
    Joyce
    July 25, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    It really breaks my heart to hear about your classmates and their food fears. College was awesome for me in many ways, but really bad for my disordered eating. Now that I’m the teacher, sometimes I wonder if I can do anything to help. So far, I’m not sure there is a whole lot.
    Another note as a teacher: my students (mostly college freshmen) can be really hard on themselves if they earn a B or a C. Heck, sometimes they write a perfectly good paper, but they just don’t understand what the assignment is asking, and they get a D. Sometimes I want to have a giant sticker to put on their papers that says “This grade is not an evaluation of your self-worth!” But so many of them are used to straight-A’s in high school, and they’ve come to expect it of themselves. And often their parents have come to expect it of them too. Thanks for being such an awesome role model, Nicole!
    Joyce recently posted…IBS Flare-Ups Are *Not* an Occasion for Self-Blame

    • Reply
      Nicole Rosalyn
      July 25, 2018 at 5:15 pm

      So beautifully said, Joyce. It breaks my heart as well, and I so so badly want to do something, to actually get through to these peers of mine that they are enough just as they are. That it’s not worth wasting these wonderful few special years on feeling unworthy or trying so hard to aspire to some impossible ideals. My goodness that sticker idea would be so so great; I just don’t know if they would believe it until they truly feel it inside, you know?

  • Reply
    Cora
    July 28, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Bravo, Nicole. This is a wonderful, stellar post and impeccably important for any young person to read. It’s very sad – though makes a lot of sense – how so many young people/students long for a way to stand out, set them selves apart, be “better” at something than others. With so many people and so many students, of course one would feel this desire. And if regimenting yourself and what you eat, or disciplining yourself to exercise more than the next person, gives you that feeling of standing out, then of course one will latch on to this “easy” fix. It can feel terrifying to feel like you do not stand out. But that is where the missing link is. The missing link that tells each student and person that they do stand out, because they are them. If you put value in being you, and in being your best self, then you will do your best work automatically. And you will succeed exactly how you are meant to succeed. Lovely work my dear <3

  • Reply
    Melissa Manley
    August 13, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Great job!

  • Reply
    Homework Needed
    August 21, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Thank you Nicole. I very much agree with you. And becomes a stereotypical botanist who sits with textbooks for several days, I did not succeed, and I never wanted it. Each of us has hobbies or other things that we want to give. And I consider this a very correct approach to life. The main thing here is to correctly set goals and priorities, and, of course, proper time management, and I think that everything can be done, and heights will be achieved in any of your endeavors.

  • Reply
    Alex Shea
    August 22, 2018 at 10:10 am

    Thank you for the great article! I was really unhealthy and depressed until I learned these amazing tips:

    http://www.healthwise101.com/Amazing-Health-Tips

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