How I Learned to (kinda) Chill Out

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been an overachiever. Starting in elementary school I developed an obsession with getting perfect grades, which continued through high school. I did every extracurricular I could, took AP and honors courses in every subject they were offered and did volunteer work on the side. No joke, my senior year of high school, I directed/produced a play, choreographed a musical, played a lead in another musical, was on my school’s dance team, in 3 audition-only choirs, the Secretary of the Student Council and my senior class, the Social Media Chair of the French Club, the editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, in the National Honor Society and the National French Honor Society, managed the boys’ soccer and track teams, on my school’s competitive slam poetry team, in the Women’s Empowerment Club and Gender/Sexuality Alliance, organized a clothing drive for the homeless by myself, and graduated salutatorian. In short, I was stressed. all. the. time. 


I didn’t want to do all of those things, but I felt like it was my ticket into getting into a prestigious college. During high school, I learned how to operate at an extreme level of constant stress. I felt like the embodiment of a great white shark-if I didn’t keep moving, I would die. I forgot how to say no and set boundaries for myself. And it was all to get into college. My entire childhood and adolescence felt like it was leading up to this moment when I could finally move out of my small hometown, live in a big city, be surrounded by intellectuals, and study the things I cared about. I made college this utopia and I thought I could leave all of the things I didn’t like about my life behind. 


So, when I moved from South Jersey to Massachusetts, I almost felt like I had reached this finish line of my life up through high school and although I was scared as hell, I thought this would be the start to the rest of my life. I was ill-equipped to say no to people and spent my first 4 semesters incredibly overwhelmed. My schoolwork suffered from it; the only reason I’ve made it through is because I had some extremely kind professors. I’ve only just begun to digest this idea. Because I had lived my entire life in preparation for college, almost every choice I made revolved around how it would affect my chances of getting into a good college, and because I had viewed it as an escape from smalltown America for so long, I thought I needed to make it perfect. I felt I had to take advantage of every opportunity I was offered, no matter how busy I was: to create my own major when none at my university satisfied me, to do independent readings and studies with professors, to try as hard as I could in every class even when that wasn’t what was best for me.  I didn’t have a break this summer. I started my internship a week and a half after the spring semester ended and finished it a week before the fall semester started, and only because I had training for an on-campus job during that week. I took one day off and I was sometimes working 50 hour weeks with a 2 hour round trip commute. Now, 4 weeks into the semester, I feel completely burnt out and like I need to sleep for a week straight. 


One of my favourite songs, Love & War in Your Twenties by Jordy Searcy, opens with these lyrics: 

“Your twenties are for spending hours and hours pretending 

We have plans and we have places we should visit

But everybody knows your twenties are for wasting time” 


The entire song is about recognizing that you have your entire life to acquire material items and achievements, but you should seek out and follow love when you can. My twentieth birthday is on September 30th; I was listening to the song earlier this week and I realized that I haven’t even hit the decade in my life that Searcy is encouraging people to take less seriously. I need to lighten my load and take a breath, but more importantly, I’m allowed to. 


I realized very recently that I don’t need to say yes to every opportunity just because it appears. My college career won’t be for naught if I take an easy class just to get the credits. If I say no to the internship I’m offered out of the blue. If I turn down the role in the play. 


Everyone knows that college students are stressed; trying to do too much with too little time. And there are probably a hundred other articles just like this one trying to say that it’s okay to slow down and that your life isn’t worth any less for it. But I’m happy to add another one because it took me years of therapy to figure this out, and maybe it won’t take you that long (or that much money haha #onlyprivatizedhealthcareproblems). 


I’ll probably always be an overachiever. I’m still a fulltime student, working 20 hours a week at 2 jobs, with an internship, and currently auditioning for plays. But! I’m starting to let go of things that I don’t think are contributing to my growth and I’m getting better at saying no when I start to feel overwhelmed. I’m so much happier for it! When I think about the past 20 years of my life, I’m looking forward to the next decade and all the time I’ll get to ‘waste’.