As president of my college’s Peer Health organization, we decided to center our final campaign of the year around the myth of effortless perfection and how while college students might seem like they have it all together all the time…WE REALLY DON’T. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EFFORTLESS PERFECTION!
While this may seem obvious, it’s often not as crystal clear as it appears to be. I even catch myself sometimes, believing that I must be the ONLY PERSON on campus who can’t manage an A in my super difficult class or can’t seem to finish a paper or reading on time. Even though I know it’s not true, it’s easy while in college to believe that you must be the only person experiencing what you are feeling and that everyone else must be having a perfect time like they should be. After all, college should be fun, right? All those all-nighters are expected, right? Don’t we all have it together all the time? The truth is WE DON’T, AND WE’RE NOT PERFECT…BUT THAT’S OKAY! This might be the most important lesson I have learned during my two years in college.
A friend of mine wrote an op-ed in our school’s newspaper which discussed this very topic. Surprisingly, most people feel the same way but just do not speak up about it. Our campaign allowed students to anonymously submit ways in which they are not perfect on slips of paper to our club. We then collected all responses and created a picture campaign of students around campus. We anonymously matched up the photos ( covering each person’s face with a picture of our school mascot, the purple cow) with the ways in which Williams College students are imperfect and put all posters on display around campus.
Some valuable things I realized from speaking with multiple students during this campaign include the following:
We all know the image of the ideal college student. Some students closely resemble this image of the well-rounded student, a double major, taking as many classes as possible, while playing a varsity sport, and maintaining a leadership role on campus and planning to study abroad. But this is CLEARLY NOT ALL OF US! We are all pretty much sleep deprived at some point or other during our college career and we can’t all juggle more classes than the ones we have to take. It’s nearly impossible to find time to merely exercise and maintain all coursework required for each class, yet alone play a varsity sport each semester.
MOST IMPORTANTLY… FOR THOSE OF YOU INCOMING FRESHMEN YOUR COLLEGE TOUR WILL PROBABLY ELUDE TO THE ABOVE STUDENT IMAGE, WHILE NOT ALLOWING YOU TO GET A GLIMPSE OF THE TRUE MAJORITY OF THE COLLEGE STUDENT BODY…
A tour won’t tell you about nights spent crying, or the stress that classes pile on. They won’t let you in on how some students go as far as taking caffeine pills and harming their body just to stay awake a few more hours of the day to get their work done. Nobody wants to admit their drowning in their school work. But, honestly, that is where I found myself this year.
I was sleep deprived, stressed beyond what I could manage, and overall, compromising my health for a shot at a higher grade in a class. But as college students we must truly ask ourselves: when is enough, just enough? When is your health more important than your education? What is your own personal limit? I did not know my limit until this year, when I clearly passed it and could no longer handle college. I encourage you all to find your own limit before you get to this point. Figure out how much sleep, meal time, and even down time that you need to stay focused, healthy, and do well in college. But, do not compromise your own health or sanity for school. I found myself doing that very thing and it honestly did not get me far. Staying up late every night, just made me moody, depressed, and unable to focus in classes. I was upset that my grades weren’t improving from all the extra time I was putting into my classes, but rather getting worse! Probably, because I was sleep deprived and would catch myself falling asleep in class and during tests! Staying up all night should never be an option. I myself am going to come up with a new plan for next year, because I was only harming myself and my health by doing so. The symptoms of effortless perfection are pervasive on a college campus.
As hard working college students, we often try to convince ourselves that we can balance our sleep, study and socializing time, but the truth is, usually we can’t. Sleep is the weakest link, and all-nighters often become an accepted part of your college life. When you work towards perfection everyday… failure is not an option. That was my own worst fear: Failing a class or not being able to handle college and disappointing my family as a result. But, Fear of failure keeps us from trying new things, whether that means courses, activities or friendships. And it makes us stick with things that we think we should do, even if they make us unhappy. It’s as though we’re so worried about our future at times, that we can’t enjoy the present. For those of you who already in college and have felt many of the same feelings I have described in this post, know that you’re not alone and next time somebody says: “Hey, how are you?” don’t just say okay, good, or fine, if you truly don’t feel that way. Be honest to not only others, but most importantly, yourself. Sometimes things aren’t Fine. Everyone thinks they’re the only person who can’t handle it, but you’re not alone. My friend Eliza once told me: “Everyone struggles with stress to varying degrees. The way to be happy is through effortful imperfection – throw your energy into what you love, even if it means failing sometimes.” Nobody is perfect and the truth is that sometimes Failure can be much healthier than trying to be perfect all the time.