This is Your Sign to Take a Break: Perfectionism & the Pandemic

At this point, we’re well into remote learning and Zoom. We’ve mastered making sure to cover our laptop’s camera with our finger before logging onto class. We know to constantly check if we’re muted. Many of us have woken up minutes before class starts. We know that the speed button on our lecture recordings is our best friend. That we should probably buy some blue light glasses and while we’re at it, an ergonomic chair is all we can dream of. That our bed is so much better than those narrow lecture hall seats. That breakout rooms are the new social anxiety. That texting our friend during class is the new falling asleep on their shoulder. We’ve never been more frustrated at teachers. We’ve never been more appreciative of teachers.  

In my first year of university on campus, I walked in and out of the exam rooms with a realistic grade in mind. I contextualized my success. If I had a busy week, doing the exam was worthy of rewarding myself with a visit to my favorite restaurant. Grades were just grades. Numbers were not a measurement of my effort and my expectations were realistic. In finding a balance between school and life, I was happy. Most importantly, I was proud and this helped me succeed by my own standards.  

But amidst this pandemic, I feel myself returning to my most despised self. With online assignments, quizzes, and exams, achieving that 100% suddenly seems so much more achievable and enticing. With everything being open book, it seemed like such a ridiculous waste of an opportunity to simply not ace anything. I needed to be perfect. 

Perfectionism is a well-known and universal student problem. It’s the huge weight on our shoulders that we wearily try to shrug off. It’s the nagging feeling in our mind that won’t go away when we treat ourselves to one episode on Netflix. It’s what leaves us unsatisfied after setting unreachable expectations. The drop in our stomach when our grade stares back at us. The never-will-be-proud and can’t-stop-working mentality.  

This pandemic has ripped my rationality and in its place, I found perfectionism glaring back at me.  

Person waiting by window, sad Photo by Andrik Langfield from Unsplash

My daily schedule no longer includes the dreadful three-hour commute. Coffee shops and restaurants at every street corner no longer distract me. I can’t procrastinate by chatting away with friends at the library. I’m not required to wake up before sunrise. I don't have to confront the terrible wind and rain. I don’t have to freeze in the cold while waiting for the lights to turn green. With all this new spare time, I somehow convinced myself that it would be best to study more. Not spending more time with family. Forget catching up with friends. 25-minute episodes are just too long and books remind me of my 60-page reading due on Friday.  

What I’ve come to realize is all those seemingly meaningless moments on campus were my break from school. It was the dreadful walk between classes in the freezing weather. The grabbing of snacks with friends before a long lecture. It was spending too long trying to find a seat in the library during midterm season. It was catching up with friends and trying to whisper in the library. The countless coffee runs. The short naps taken during class. The horribly long commute home. But it was also walking downtown and having someone offer you a kind smile. Texting your friend and finding out they were on campus. The impromptu dates to your favorite restaurant after a long day of classes. Spending way too much time roaming the city’s streets trying to choose somewhere to eat. Being on campus made me take breaks. The barrier between school and life was all these things.  

Now, this barrier is the three-inch distance between my desk and bed. Even then, my bed is no longer my trustworthy sanctuary. It is the horrible chair that provides the worst back support while attending class. My white walls glare back at me when I procrastinate. My screen time hits a new record every day. My shoulders are sore from hunching over my laptop. My neck begging me to do some stretches. My back warning me that I’ll be reprimanding myself in ten years. My mind asking me to take it slow. The sun sets early. The mornings are near impossible to get out of bed. The weather’s cold and dry. The kitchen cupboards are running low on snacks. Naps are too dangerous, there’s no one to wake you up.  

All I’m left with is school and this absurd need to get that 100%. That grade letter A is slowly stripping me of the very few reasonable parts left of my being. I spent three days trying to be productive, get work done in advance. I did nothing. I just sat there behind my desk. Perfectionism pulling at my hair demanding for just more. More work. More studying. More focus. More discipline. 

Tiles spelling out the word 'rest' Photo by Sincerely Media via Unsplash

We're almost a year into this pandemic and I’ve come to slowly relearn how to balance my life and school. No more work past 12:30 A.M. Sleep is your best friend. If you can’t focus, it’s your body telling you to get up. Friends are important. Family too. One Netflix episode will do no harm.  Sprawled on your bed while listening to music always works. A workout is the closest thing you’ll get to speed walking from one class to another.  Perfectionism is your worst enemy. Grades are just a number. You’re doing your best. You’re doing amazing.  

All this to say that this is your sign to take a break.