The Dangers of Being an Overachiever All Your Life

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I’m sure that many of you can relate to my experience when I first started university at 18 years old. As children, we were taught to always be overachievers and high performers when it comes to our education. Our parents oftentimes encourage us to build the stepping stones that would lead to us becoming a doctor, engineer or high-level professional when we finally were old enough to start pursuing careers. As a result, many of us, myself included, come to our prestigious and nationally renowned universities with stacked resumes and beefed up college applications full of numerous extracurriculars, extensive volunteering credentials and high academic achievements.
When I first started my freshman year at UCLA, my parents encouraged me to follow the STEM path and become a pharmacist in the future.
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After all, my admission to UCLA fell under the biochemistry major and I entered the school with high marks in AP Chemistry and the Chemistry SAT subject test. As someone who worked hard all her life, and someone who had never exactly struggled with chemistry before, my first grade in a university-level chemistry course came as a bitter shock to me. There was something about staring at the angry red grade on my half-broken laptop in the dead of night the day before Christmas that utterly broke my spirit. As someone who had never even scored a grade below a B in the previous eighteen years of my life, I felt entirely unprepared to deal with the harsh reality of that ugly low grade and spent much of my winter break being overly sensitive and prone to outbursts of tears.
The quarters that followed that first term at university only grew worse and worse. I felt ashamed of my low performance in my STEM classes and angry at my parents for making me pursue that track. Now, I think all of you who always found success easily in your youth will relate to my next actions well. Unaccustomed to failure and unprepared to come to terms with such troubles, I started to lie to my parents about my performance in classes. It seemed easy for me to lie to everyone around me and pretend that I was doing okay; all the while withdrawing into myself and falling into the worst mental and physical health of my life.
I let myself waste away two years of my life like this.
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I turned into a bitter toxic person that hated the world and hated everything in my life. I was unrecognizable from my past high school self. Now coming out to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I have numerous regrets about how I dealt with my failures in the first two years of my university education.
My parents helped me finally change the trajectory of my life. Oblivious as they were to the emotional and mental states of their children, they finally realized that something was dramatically wrong with me. This led to them urging me to show them my university transcript at the end of my second year. It began with me bursting into tears and adamantly refusing to let them look at my university transcript –whose GPA seemed leagues away from the 4.5 GPA of my high school years–and ended with them seeing my transcript. They realized that in my attempt to follow their dreams, I was literally crushing my soul and spirit.
My parents made the executive decision that summer to make me take some time off of school so that I could reevaluate my life. With that much-needed break, they hoped I might come to terms with what exactly I wanted to pursue educationally, where my interests and passions lay and where I wanted to my life and career to go.
I only ended up taking a quarter off from school but for six months, I was not in any type of traditional schooling.
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Instead, I started going to sleep and waking up when I wanted and pursuing all the hobbies and creative passions that I desired. I rediscovered my love of reading and writing. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to explore that side of myself as a biochemistry major taking primarily STEM courses. Also, I improved my mental health tremendously which allowed me to reevaluate my priorities.
When I reentered UCLA, I entered as an English major. Upon changing my major at UCLA and healing from my existential crisis, I regained sight of who I am. I am once again passionate about things and pursuing my interests. I am once again a high performing and productive individual. If you feel unhappy with yourself, your university, your major, etc., I urge you to please take the time to reevaluate your life and maybe even take some time off of school. Then, come back stronger than ever and with a vengeance to show life that you still have what it takes.