⏱️ 4 min read
August 5, 2020
“This article is a part of Fiveable’s Field Notes series. Field Notes is a collection of articles curated by students and teachers from around the world detailing their academic experiences.”
I started the 2018-2019 school year with wide eyes. I was in the top concert band at my school and a brand-new member of the varsity debate team. I had three AP classes to look forward to; a healthy, reasonable number. I had a decent work ethic and good grades.
I grew up chasing success and this year was no different. I was convinced that everything had to be perfect. I was going to be perfect. I had to be.
My sophomore year of high school hit me like a bag of bricks.
The workload of three AP classes and the time commitment of Band and the research pressures of debate began to take their toll. I’m not a multitasker and juggling three different obligations left me scrambling. The result was that I didn’t win a single debate round for months. I didn’t practice my instrument for months. I did all my homework the night before it was due.
The trouble with craving perfection in everything is that you wind up feeling good at nothing. In the face of all my stress, I began to fixate on my flaws. Everything began to feel pointless and I lost the motivations that once drove me. I ended up burning out in October. (What is burnout?)
Something changed when I came back to school after Winter Break. I felt… better. I made it to the elimination rounds of a debate tournament. I started spending more time with my friends and genuinely enjoying that time. I fell in love with history and writing more and more; I discovered a passion for something that I wanted to hold onto. I started to remember why I’d signed up for my life in the first place.
This change in mood wasn’t because my life was perfect. Far from it.
My dad once told me something I’ll never forget. I was bemoaning my lack of achievement when he said, “Some people are grapes and some people are strawberries. Grapes ripen in the fall, while strawberries ripen in the summer. Now, it’d be silly for a strawberry to look at a grape and say, ‘why haven’t I ripened yet’, wouldn’t it? Everyone reaches success at different times.”
As Theodore Roosevelt may or may not have said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I was constantly comparing myself to everyone-my peers, strangers, a perfect version of myself. I was miserable for it.
Over the course of my sophomore year, I discovered that a lot of my personal procrastination issues and stress existed because I believed that I had to be this successful, perfect superwoman and that I should have done it yesterday. The hate I put on myself for failing to live up to these expectations made me too sad and angry to actually do anything. Procrastination was my way of avoiding my fears; fear that I’d mess up or that, in the end, I’d discover that I wasn’t capable of achieving my dreams.
I tried just focusing on the task I had at hand; not thinking about whether I’d started it too late or whether it was good enough. To my surprise, I found that nothing bad happened. I made it through my classes. I made it through Band and Debate. I wasn’t disavowed by my teachers or disinherited by my parents. Eventually, I came to realize that not everything had to be perfect.
I managed to push through the stress of my sophomore year by acknowledging that I didn’t have to be perfect today, tomorrow, or ever. I managed to believe that who I was today was enough.
I wouldn’t have made it here without the support of others. My family was always there for me. The counselors at my school were also always there if I needed someone to talk to. My Guard and Debate Captains were invaluable as well. The section leaders in my band-even those who’s section I wasn’t a part of-didn’t turn me away when I needed help. My friends provided their own… unique perspectives. All these people gave me some great advice. More importantly, they made me realize that I wasn’t alone.
If you find yourself relating to this tale of perfectionism and procrastination, I promise you aren’t alone either. I want you to know that you are enough; that you as you are today is someone worthy of love and respect. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t strive to be better or that you shouldn’t have ambitions. I just want you to know that you don’t have to be perfect at everything. You don’t have to have your life figured out. You are enough and you’re probably doing great at being enough.
Sophomore year was the year I learned how to breathe. How to enjoy today instead of constantly worrying about yesterday.
I still stress. I still procrastinate. However, now I can (for the most part) brush off those mistakes and look towards the future with bright eyes. I hope everyone reading this has a great 2019-2020 year. I’m rooting for you!
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