The Perils of Being an Overachiever
We had all gathered around the dining table, it was about 8 in the morning. My dad started calculating the percentage while my mother and sister frantically asked "did she do it?" Before he could say anything, I could sense the sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach, I hadn't done it. I hadn't achieved what I had been working for, for 2 whole years. I hadn't topped my year, like everyone thought I would.
I had always been an overachiever. It was the disadvantage to being the baby of the family. You constantly felt you had to prove yourself to measure up against the illustrious older members of the family. It was also the disadvantage to being a perfectionist. Everything you had to do had to be JUST perfect.
In the Indian curriculum, you have a choice between three streams of subjects to concentrate on. My love for English and the social sciences meant that the humanities was my first choice. My parents were supportive as long as I promised to excel in whatever I was doing but my teachers were aghast.
I remember my social science teacher telling me in front of the entire class that being a straight A student, the science stream was my best bet. I could always do whatever I wanted AFTER taking science. She told me not to rush into humanities as it was not a stable option. And she was supposed to be my SOCIAL science teacher. So you could see what I was up against.
Humanities turned out to be the path I was destined to be on. I aced all my subjects by a considerable percentage. In the 11th grade, I topped all 5 subjects. And for the first time, I felt like I was capable of anything. I finally felt like the ideal me that I had aspired to be, all these years.
But the greatest challenge was still in front of me. The 12th grade or what was known as the dreaded year of the boards. Our papers would be corrected by an unknown face in a different country.
The boards were sort of like the hunger games. Students turned on each other, teachers egged us on. I studied everyday for 8 hours straight. I started stress eating and gaining weight. I got into arguments with friends and shut off from the outside world completely. My only solace were the television shows I watched. Watching the antics of Chandler and Joey, or watching Mindy's latest romance helped me forget for a minute the stresses that were upon me.
When the boards came along, I finally felt that the arduous journey was coming to an end. I kept imagining how I'd jump with glee when the results came out and how I'd see my picture in the newspaper and how I'd finally prove my worth.
Well, you can probably guess by now, how this story ends. I got my grades: all As and one B+. But the 86 in political science marred the appearance of the 99s and 95s in the other subjects. I was shocked. The paper had gone bad but not THAT bad. I even sent it for re-evaluation but to no avail. I had to assume that the examiner had screwed up or I had screwed up the paper a lot more than I thought I did.
My family and friends were supportive. They knew how much this meant to me. But the truth is, nothing you can say or do in that situation is the right thing. Just remember to be tactful. For example when I told one of my friends I didn't top, the first response was, okay who did? I was shocked at the lack of comforting words and refused to reply. And when my sister noted how cute the prizewinner was on stage, I lashed out at her. In my head, it didn't matter who topped, I DIDN'T. My friends and family were meant to be on MY side.I was clearly irrational in both instances but the point is, tact is necessary when dealing with this type of situation.
For an overachiever, the failure in achieving a goal is equivalent to a bad breakup. I got rid of all my books, syllabi, motivational quotes, the works, much like a person in a relationship would get rid of all their ex's photos and love letters.
I was numb for a few days, brushing it off as 'no big deal'. Then I got angry and started complaining about it. I deserved this, how could this happen to me?! Then I decided to start dieting. My screwed up brain reasoned that if I wasn't smart enough to top, then at least I could be attractive enough. Finally, the grief caught up to me but I couldn't put it in words or tell somebody in plain terms how I really felt. Complaining about how you deserved something is one thing. Admitting how vulnerable you felt was another. So according to the five stages of grief, acceptance has to be the last stage right?
Well it's 4 years later, and the truth is I am happier now than I have ever been. This disappointment is now just a memory, and an experience I learned from. Studying in the US and befriending people from all over the world has made me realize that I used to stress about things, that would be of no significance a year later. I'm still a straight A student in college, getting on the dean's list each semester. My 12th grade results did nothing to affect that.
The truth is I have now started to measure my success in terms of how creatively fulfilled I feel as opposed to keeping a certain GPA as a benchmark. I served as an opinion editor for my college newspaper The Creightonian. I worked as a communications intern for a non-profit, and even got to go to my dream city: New York City to participate in the Big East Start-up Challenge of 2019. I'm working on several passion projects, and no longer feel the need to prove myself. My ambitions and goals will continue to evolve, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for me!
So what was my purpose in writing this piece? This is a message to all the Type A personalities out there. You WILL fail in life at some point, no matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you wish for it. And when you do, it doesn't necessarily mean that you did something wrong but just that it was not your time to shine. But that time will always come. Every star has their moment to shine bright.
Being an overachiever is good in the sense that you don't take anything for granted, and that you are constantly on the move. You'll probably have a lot more successes because of your efforts, but each failure will hurt. But remember, that sometimes you need to stop and smell the roses. Taking some 'me time' now and again is not a luxury, its a necessity.
And to all the students out there desperately awaiting their results, your marks are not a reflection of how intelligent you are or how successful you will be in later on in life. So take a deep breath and take it one day at a time! It will all fall into place, it always does.