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Why You Should Stop Letting Academic Validation Define Your Self-Worth

If you’re an overachieving university student like me, receiving one bad grade can make you feel like the world is crumbling around you. It’s a horrible feeling, not because you didn’t try, but because all the time you dedicated to that particular project was for nothing. There is a desire for perfection that follows you as you complete every test, assignment or exam, and if you don’t get that A, you beat yourself up over it. Maybe it’ll ruin your day or your week. And sometimes it feels like your professor just sat you down and told you how horrible of a person you are.

As great as it feels to receive top grades and be considered by professors as a “hard-working student,” it’s not always healthy. We shouldn’t be crying over a low mark or feeling guilty for taking one day off to spend time with family and friends, or just to do some of the things we love. There is a toxicity within the online world that romanticizes productivity, known as “hustle culture” or “study culture.” On Instagram and TikTok, influencers post time-lapses of themselves studying at a desk for eight hours straight, surrounded by their trendy stationery items and weekly planners. On YouTube, you can join in on live “study with me’” videos and watch academic-focused vlogs created by your favourite StudyTubers. Don’t get me wrong, I also rely on some of these creators to give me the motivation to study. They actually make me feel excited to sit down and start working, and I appreciate the effort these influencers put into their content. It’s inspiring to watch other people dedicate themselves to the tasks they love, but when these tasks begin to consume your entire life––including how you view yourself––that’s when it becomes a problem.

Even though I’m still learning how to do this, it’s crucial that you take some time to focus on separating your grades from your self-image. I can promise you that a C grade isn’t a reflection of how you look or how other people perceive you – it’s just another way of saying, “do better next time.” Growth isn’t linear, which means that you have to face the lower grades in order to receive the high ones. If you’re never forced to experience failure, you wouldn’t be the person you are today.

I’m not saying that you should stop working hard, but I think we all need to take a step back every once in a while to prioritize ourselves. You don’t need to be working all day and night to be productive or to be considered successful. In fact, I think it’s pretty unrealistic to be “hustling” all the time. We must learn how to enjoy ourselves and take the time to just do nothing. Once we set boundaries between school and our personal life, living becomes a lot less draining.

So, if you’re experiencing burnout or have been mumbling “I do that” after reading everything above, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some tips I’ve been practicing to help me balance school and my personal life:

Dedicate an hour EVERY DAY to Do something you love

It’s crucial that we set aside time for guilty pleasures. Whether that is reading that book you’ve been eyeing for months, watching an episode of your favourite television show, baking something sweet, going out for coffee with a friend, or watching a new movie in theatres – we should be able to take a break from our assignments to do the things we enjoy. Once we take these things away, completing your work becomes daunting, and actually finding the motivation to start the day feels like a chore. Now, you have something to look forward to while also giving yourself that mental break you deserve.

Get into the habit of journaling

Journaling has become a huge trend these past few years. While it may seem like a waste of time for some, it’s a great way to self-reflect and start your day with a positive mindset. It also opens a lot of doors for creativity and expression. There’s a ton of journals that you can order online that are centred around different themes. To purchase these, I would suggest checking out Etsy or any other online shops.

Practice daily affirmations

You can find various lists of affirmations online to follow. Remind yourself of your self-worth, especially if you’re feeling low or are having a bad day. Starting your day with daily affirmations can help improve your mindset and will get rid of any of that personal doubt that you might’ve woken up with. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the type of person we are and what we’re capable of––and that’s okay!

Go for a walk

If your brain is feeling scattered or you feel like you need to take some time to reflect, put in your headphones, blast your favourite playlist and take a walk. If you live near a park or conservation area, take some time out of your day to appreciate nature and enjoy the fresh air. It also might be relieving to stretch your legs after sitting in a desk chair or hunched over on your computer for hours on end.

Take breaks!

I can’t stress this one enough. I’ve also made the mistake of working on an assignment for hours without a break and I always end up feeling terrible. Even if it’s just for five minutes – get up, walk around, look outside, stretch your legs. I assure you that taking a few breaks won’t prevent you from completing that assignment on time.

While productivity has become such a huge part of our lives as university students, we shouldn’t be afraid to focus on other things. Even though it may not seem like it, there is more to life than how well you’ll do in school.

You are your top priority, and it’s important that you never forget that.

Claire is a first year English student at Ryerson University.
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