It’s the beginning of November, which means it’s also that point in the semester when I start to question whether I’m going to make it to the end. I ended up getting sick last week, which made it particularly difficult to get my work done, and made me miss a few classes as well. With work piling up around me, I found it hard to simultaneously focus on getting it all done while getting adequate rest and doing my best to get healthy again. This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in this situation, and it probably won’t be the last, but it did get me pondering the ways society thinks about school and work in relation to physical and mental wellbeing.
I would consider myself a pretty hard worker, and someone who has always taken school work very seriously. However, I was never someone who would stress so much about grades that it had an effect on my well being, which is something I saw happen fairly frequently amongst my friends. For me, it’s always been an easy choice: my sanity over my grades. It’s a philosophy I’ve never felt bad about, and one that’s never prevented me from doing my best work. Every now and then, a bad quiz grade happens, you don’t finish your homework for that night, or you forget to turn something in. I’m lucky to have been raised in a family that emphasized the importance of academics, but were also firm believers that all you can do is your best. In a culture of perfectionism, efficiency, and self professed “workaholics,” I think that’s an extremely valuable thing to keep in mind. At the end of the day, we’re all human. We get tired. It’s up to us to accept that and not push ourselves beyond the boundaries of what’s reasonable.
It’s common nowadays to hear students bragging about how little they slept the night before in order to study for a test, or finish a paper. Putting aside our own health in pursuit of academic and workplace perfection is something that is becoming valued in our society, which I personally think is extremely toxic. Sometimes it can even begin to seem like a contest: who sacrificed the most for the sake of their grades? Did you skip meals? Not exercise? Barely get an hour of rest? You accumulate points for each one you check off, and see them reflected in your rising GPA.
Many people might dismiss this as what it means to grow up. That’s the “real world” and we all just have to cope and learn how to live with it. Some people might also think it’s childish to refuse this way of living. I, however, think it’s one of the smartest things a person can do for themselves. When I have a particularly stressful week, nine times out of ten, I’ll be at least somewhat sick the next, probably because of exhaustion and not taking care of myself. In order to prevent this, I now know that I have to make changes to the way I handle my work and my responsibilities.Things like planning and managing my time better and putting my phone away so I can get things done without distractions are essential to making sure I don’t find myself overwhelmed. But in addition to this, I think it would be helpful to make rules for myself that allow me to put my work aside for a bit without feeling guilt. For example, after 10 p.m. I can stop my work for the night, regardless of whether it’s completely finished. In that way, I’m choosing sleep over perfection, and choosing myself over work, which I think is the best investment I can make and infinitely more important in the long run.