Friday 1 April 2016

The achievement of ‘success’ – Why your grades do not define you

Emily writes about how good grades do not define a person and how success can be achieved through the simplest things.
- Emily Oldfield

University can feel like a fast, full-on, forward- thinking place which comes with its advantages and disadvantages. It is often presented as a marker of success too, a concept that I am particularly sensitive to. What I want to say, is do not let the expectation of successes define your future, it is your experiences that do. By letting go of the fixation on the future driven by an idealisation of success, what you see instead is the fantastic present. I went to university in 2013, driven by the expectation that it was part of a path to success and to continue this involved ongoing academic achievement, getting firsts. Expectation often causes us to isolate certain aims. What I want to draw attention to is the fact that expectation does not equal reality and sometimes it is okay not to live up to the consensus of success, especially at university.

Being quite an anxious person, I quickly became pre-occupied by academia going to university. Some people will say that this is just part of being a student but this was exactly the problem. In attempting to fit into what I thought was the model the successful student, I was working up to 16 hours a day, attempting so much extra-circular, keeping myself awake on caffeine. I was living up a concept of success which was a collaboration of modern media and what my own thoughts were telling me. Yet whilst I was obsessing over success in this way, it came at a cost to my relationships, health and happiness.  Due to this idealised notion of academic success, my grades were growing but I wasn’t. That is why I want to urge universities, students and their peers alike to realise that academic achievement even at university, isn’t necessarily an indication of happiness. Too many times I felt that my anxieties were discredited by university because I was still succeeding in my studies.

Unfortunately, I attempted to pursue what was an idea, rather than a reality of success until the point of burn-out, leaving me in a very difficult position in 2015. I was faced with the prospect of having to take a leave of absence from university. As someone to whom the notion of success lay in an important convention through university, this was a difficult thing to face. In accepting that I wasn’t living according to expectation, that  I had been struggling with my mental health and  that I needed to focus on me, I have managed to move onwards.  My old dogmatic definition of success fell down as I made the decision to take a leave of absence before transferring universities, choosing an institution closer to home and also closer to my heart. I made a choice and picked a less exam-based course better-suited to me. 
Expectations should inspire you but not intimidate you, sometimes things don’t fall exactly into place. For years I neglected my emotional well-being believing that was pursuing success but in reality I was ignoring myself. That is why it’s important to think of YOUniversity, not just university. It’s a time to define yourself, not to be defined by expectations. 

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