by Maya Beninteso, Peak Associate
You knew my type in high school. I always sat in the front row and was a part of too many student councils and clubs to remember. I was a multi-sport athlete. I was the valedictorian of my graduating class. I was the person who believed a 90% on a test was a definite nail in my academic coffin.
In short — I was your textbook overachiever.
As the first person out of my immediate family that went directly to university after graduating high school, I felt an immense amount of pressure to continue my legacy as the “golden child.” This isn’t because my family placed any sort of emphasis on academic accomplishment — they couldn’t have been more proud of me — but I felt the need to prove I wasn’t a fraud (the imposter syndrome was real).
This is the mindset I carried into my first semester here at SFU. Of course, my grades didn’t magically drop since I kept my good work ethic from high school. However, I found myself obsessing over my grades to the point where I would get sick to my stomach over every email notification from Canvas.
One year ago, I had a 1,200 word essay and I decided at the last minute my writing wasn’t good enough. I deleted the entire paper (yes, every single word) and started all over again at 1:00 a.m. the day it was due. It wasn’t because it was a bad paper — I just didn’t think it was perfect. It had to be perfect, or else my world would obviously implode. This behaviour was positively reinforced because I ended up with an A+ on that paper. So, I continued to do this exact routine of deleting and editing and obsessing until my perfectionism caught up to me.
Last semester was the worst for this, but it taught me an invaluable lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my academic career. Each assignment and exam — no matter how small it was — was accompanied by debilitating anxiety that resulted in me being bedridden. I would get so ill I thought it had to be COVID-19. My signature academic drive ironically drove me to physical illness. Sitting in front of my computer during one of my online midterms, accompanied by a half-used box of tissues and a bowl — just in case — was a truly humbling experience.
My life lacked balance. My Google Calendar was filled with my school and athletic training schedule, but I failed to take care of myself first. I always preach balance is key and there I was willingly prioritizing school over my own well-being. I wanted to believe I could do everything and, while I could try, doing everything under the sun cost me my well-being and happiness. I knew something had to change.
That same semester, I made a friend in my upper-division psychology course. We sat next to each other in lecture and became fast friends purely because of our shared nerdy tendencies. We would make jokes using material from the class, which were thoroughly appreciated by the professor (I definitely cannot say the same for the students in the class). We also shared the same academic drive and similar experiences with school-related anxiety. Because we identified so heavily with one another, we were able to help each other through the semester.
By the time our final rolled around, our typical nausea-inducing anxiety was not nearly as severe. Not only that but, the night prior to our final exam after three weeks of studying together, we decided to have fun. We went out to Lafarge Lake to walk around and see the lights. It was truly an en-light-ening experience. I would’ve never dared to go out the night before a final exam, but I’m glad I did. My newfound friend and I leaned on each other and ultimately taught one another this: you can be a stellar student and have fun. Just because I am going to schedule more time for myself doesn’t mean my grades will drop.
I started to realize my worth isn’t limited to a grade I receive in some class whose contents I will likely not recall. What matters most is making memories with loved ones. Prioritizing my well-being. Living as opposed to barely surviving.
Long story short, I survived last semester, but I am not going to merely survive this semester. I’m going to enjoy it.