It’s that time of the semester. The time when deadlines kick in, our anxieties go up, we go to sleep thinking about work, wake up thinking about work… Personally, this feels like torture. It feels like a living hell. When I’m sleeping, I feel like I’m in a lucid dream. When I’m awake, I feel like I’m in sleep paralysis. Always stuck in this limbo between waking and sleeping and never fully being either. This got me thinking – why do so many of us put ourselves through this hell? I think it’ll be one in a million chances of someone saying they don’t find deadlines and exams stressful. It takes a toll on so many of us, and yet we continue pushing through the pain. However, it’s about time we evaluate if this pursuit of grades is what we want, given the sacrifices we have to make? What do we get at the end of it and is that worth it?
Inevitably, if one devotes their time to this aspect of their life, it’s bound to take time out from other aspects. After all, we only have 24 hours a day, no more and no less. A common sacrifice many of us will have to make then, is for our relationships to fall by the wayside. Have you ever rejected a friend who asked you out, because you were so busy rushing your submissions? Or find yourself planning fewer hangouts with your loved ones because you know you are too busy and do not have time for that? Well, I certainly have. As I entered into the later years in university, I found myself having fewer and fewer social gatherings. And I’m not just talking about socializing with big social groups. I’m talking about fewer interactions with even the friends I consider as close and have formed deep connections with. As the semesters progress, some have slipped away. This is not a case of “drifting apart”, which is a common blanket reason used for the ending of relationships. Most often than not, especially if it was with someone you connected and felt a deep bond with, it’s because either or both parties became busy and just never found the time to meet and nurture that bond. Yes, it is drifting apart, but not because “life happens”. It’s because chasing grades happens.
When I look back at my semesters as they progress, I realize that a lot of the time, I don’t do anything other than study. Wake up, go for tutorials, go back, study, sleep, repeat. Occasionally, maybe sneak in that lunch or dinner break in between, which would usually be kept to as short as possible so that I can get back to work. There is no taking the time to travel out of campus grounds to have a good meal and catch-up with your friends, no taking the time to eat and enjoy the conversation with your friend. It’s eat then back to work. They say, the older you get the smaller your inner circle gets because you grow the wisdom to implement quality-control. However, sometimes it’s not because of wisdom but rather, neglect that is shrinking your inner circle.
Relationships are not the only aspect we neglect when chasing grades. When you put so much value on this number, we place as much pressure on ourselves. This high amount of stress certainly cannot be good for our mental well-being. The constant anxiety from chasing deadlines, the racing thoughts on whether the work you submitted is good enough, the heaviness in your heart when your grades are not up to expectations… Imagine this cycle multiplied by the number of modules you are taking. And this is just for one semester! Above all of this, we find ourselves suppressing these feelings in order to remain functional, because no matter rain or shine, the grind doesn’t stop. Our bodies are just like plants, because we are living beings that contain life and hence, need care and attention. But many of us fail to remember that we are made up of not just physical well-being, but mental well-being as well. Just like caring for plants, we need to shower our minds with the necessary nutrients or else they will wither and die. Even if you can’t see the detriments now, the lack of care for our mental well-being will fester and trickle down and show up in the future. For me, I realized that I’ve developed unhealthy coping mechanisms such as binge eating and negative self-talk. This may seem small because there are no immediate repercussions, but when we look at it in the long run, we see that it will have a snowball effect. For example, binge eating has made me feel guilty and developed an unhealthy relationship with food. Negative self-talk has made my self-esteem lower and lower and I criticize myself for the smallest of things. In the long run, my self-worth gets smaller but I continue being trapped in this bubble because I do not have the time to meditate, reflect, or seek help. All of these require me to take time out from studying but in the pursuit of grades, thoughts of “I need to get back to my work” and “My finals are coming up and I need to finish my revision” are constantly bugging at the back of my head. Just like plants, when we leave our well-being uncared for, the negativity builds up and eventually, it becomes not just a phase but taints our entire self-perception and worldview of the world.
Chasing grades can go from being just a phase as part of your education journey, to being a lifestyle habit of constant chase and perpetual unfulfillment. While it’s good to have goals to motivate you, we need to remember that we shouldn’t let the pursuit consume us. For example, while it’s great to attain a good grade in school, it’s very likely that once you achieve that, all you could think of was the next number for the next exam. These numbers can never fill one’s deepest need for love or acceptance or happiness; they just fuel one’s anxiety and possibly like what happened to me, developing an unhealthy attachment of my worth to my grades. The numbers fade in significance as the initial happiness fleets away. And this is because happiness is not some grand ideal and destination. It’s a journey. Happiness comes from pockets of moments. Think about the times that you have been your happiest, the moments that make your heart warm and make you smile to yourself. More often than not, it’s not going to be all of the achievements you’ve had, but it’s in the small things like when you went on a vacation and saw how beautiful the waters are, or a really delicious meal you’ve had, or an eye-opening conversation you’ve had with a friend. Sure, grades may be needed to bring us one step closer to our dreams. But is happiness really achieved once we obtain those dreams? Can we still be equally happy, or maybe even happier, from other things?
We all have dreams and ambitions and many of us have experienced fulfilling these at least once in our lifetime. But that feeling from our accomplishments is temporary and once the moment is passed, you move on and perhaps, set your next goal. We tell ourselves that we are going to be happy once we achieve those goals, but in reality, we are never going to be fully happy because once we have that, we will only want more. It’s a human tendency to always want more, we never get to a place where happiness is fully achieved and it ceases there. This is why the answer to happiness is still an abstract concept because there is no fixed route to happiness, there is no fixed answer to how one can achieve happiness. Numbers can only take you so far. Our happiness is so much greater than a set path of goals and milestones. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals, but the key is to not completely rely on them, and to not have a set timeline that consumes every aspect of our life.