Rosemary Chesney, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
When I was in the first grade, I remember my school started the tradition of handing out medals to students who earned good grades. The rules were simple: If you got all As that year, you got a big gold medal. If you got all As and Bs, you got a slightly smaller silver medal. Even back in elementary school, I joined millions of other people in the never-ending, unfulfilling chase for perfection.
When my six-year-old self saw those big gold metals hanging down from the few dozen smug-looking older kids, I made a decision to always earn all As. Five years later when I graduated elementary school, I had five polished golden medals with an obnoxiously large “A” inscribed on them, all hanging down from my dresser.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding those who work hard. There is something wrong, however, with placing someone’s self-worth in their achievements, which is exactly what I did.
It’s easy for humans, especially college students at a rigorous school, to judge other people as a more valuable human if they have a more impressive resume. It’s even easier for college students to judge themselves by their accomplishments. The idea is, “if I get good grades, do well in extracurriculars, and do well in my job, then I am valuable. If I do not, then I am worth less.”
It wasn’t until last summer that I genuinely began to believe that my self-worth doesn’t rely on what I do. I was selected last summer for an intense and difficult 12-week personal-growth program and, at first, was absolutely terrible at the work I was doing. Needless to say, my self-esteem plummeted.
One fateful Thursday during my first week, I was crying to my dad about how frustrated I was when he told me that my self-worth didn’t depend on my success. Slowly but surely, I began to believe him, and my job got easier and much more fun.
Ambition is an excellent characteristic and success is not evil but obsessing over perfectionism is miserable. The problem with perfectionism is that you’ll either be unsatisfied with yourself because you aren’t achieving what you want or desperately afraid of losing your success once you do have it. Perfectionism also leads to fear of failure which restricts people from taking risks and opportunities.
When I look at life at Berry, the moments that bring me the most joy aren’t when I receive an “A” on an especially difficult economics test or hear a professor’s praise for a particularly long essay I wrote. The moments I cherish are times spent laughing at midnight in the library or having deep talks at 2 a.m. in a dorm room. The truth is that loving other people brings much more joy than recognition or achievements could ever bring.
Should we all slack off in classes or purposely lose sports games? No, obviously not. Hard work and determination bring success, which allows us to achieve our personal goals in life. However, if I study as much as I can and still make a disappointing grade, I won’t beat myself up because my genuine self-worth isn’t determined by my achievements.
If I could go back in time and talk to my first-grade self, I would tell her to go ahead and work hard to earn those big gold medals. But then I’d tell her that the kids who wore those medals weren’t worth any more than the kids who did not wear them.
Idolizing success is miserable. Consciously choosing to place your self-worth in something other than success is the only way to be free and content.