You’ve seen me reflect on the path that I’ve already travelled on the way to my Oxford offer. While that post was for the most part a Highlights version of these past two years, this one is a counterweight, considering the things I did in these past two years which didn’t work and what I learnt from them. I feel that only from giving myself (and you) this full picture there will come a fully conscious response – a way to build upwards from where I am, rather than to simply repeat the same mistakes with minor adjustments that come with being a few years older.
Learning to Dare
Whoever said that declaring yourself a ‘perfectionist’ is a humble brag clearly hasn’t seen the suffering that comes with such tendencies. Perfectionism is pervasive: for me, it wormed its way into my every essay (which meant pretty much all of my schoolwork, since I followed a humanities-centric stream of study) – hours and hours flew by on work that was only supposed to take 45 minutes in the exam, writing became a process of convincing myself that I needed to think even further out than ‘out of the box’, do more research, polish every word, edit every sentence, until it was pushed up to a standard that would set me well apart from other students. Did I want to stop? Yes. Was it getting me stellar grades? Also, yes. Here lies the conundrum of the perfectionist. This cycle wore on until the exams, when I was all of a sudden faced with the ultimatum: write your prodigal essay in 45 minutes, and then, face those much- feared words – pens down.
Contrary to my A-levels, at university I will sacrifice my pride and all temptation of producing an extraordinary finished assignment for the sake of realistic preparation for the real task. Don’t get me wrong, I realise my luck in being gifted in English, and the fact that my steady effort did ultimately bag the A* in my A-levels. Yet my answers could have been something greater than the unfinished, rushed, overreaching pieces they were if I had taken more consistent preparation for the task set in the exam itself.
I think the reason why perfectionism has been such a tough nut to crack in my case is its unhealthy relationship with self-esteem. I do not like to be wrong.
Failure terrifies me. If I do make mistakes, the voice in my head verges on tearing me apart with guilt from the inside out, the recovery after a self-destructive storm only coming when I decide to start afresh and be ‘perfect’ once again. What’s worse, if I don’t make mistakes, there is always the perpetual fear that I may make one at any time, and therefore no achievement is truly worth acknowledging for fear of complacency.
They say recognizing a problem is the first step to overcoming it, and if so, I’m in the process of unlearning unrealistic standards, and instead learning that making mistakes is not something to be ashamed of, neither a reason for a pity party nor one for beating myself up. It is difficult to get rid of this feeling in a consumer society, where the inability to deliver results comes with punitive consequences. It is easy to believe that we are what we deliver. It is easy to forget that our worth is independent of our practical value in the world out there. Nevertheless, going forward I want my life to be about learning – not fear.
There are some students, a rare gem among many, who are reliable, organized and prepared. Then there are students like me, who, like donkeys compelled to participate in a running race, must have dynamite set to fire on our backsides so that we actually go anywhere fast (no animals were harmed in the writing of this somewhat tiresome joke). To be fair to myself, I was born with the foresight of an earthworm, and therefore find myself heaped with piles of work which I didn’t visualize or remember beforehand. You can imagine the state of my organization over the course of my A level career – I can say this much, that in university, never again will I be attempting to find ‘said useful sheet of revision’ among a vague mass of hundreds of papers. A clean-up day is NOT something to be taken lightly. The way I go about this is grabbing my planning notebook, splitting up my life into different ‘areas’ and seeing where I stand in each, followed by the tasks linked to them (when and where they need to be done) and setting reminders somewhere easy to spot. I think a safe yardstick to see if I am doing this correctly is to consider whether I could keep calm if I rolled out of bed having completely lost the coordinates of life (not an impossible occurrence for some of us.) That safety net, at least, is one step towards taking responsibility for the way my brain functions.
But then responsibility is just as much about not doing things as it is about doings. It’s about choosing whether to act and how to act. For me that translates into keeping my focus narrow at university, because my vision is to empower myself and prepare to empower others in my career; something I put before ‘living it up’ at uni and being distracted by the variety of activities on offer just because I’m young and free.
This article is an extended exercise in a quality that I most want to cultivate, which is consciousness. Consciousness makes it possible to complete a piece of writing within the time bounds that are reasonable. Consciousness is the clarity I seek on where I stand and where I’m going. For everything you read here (and possibly any spiritual benefit that the above words may bring), I must mention that I am indebted to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. He is his own introduction, as one student at an event of his put it, and for that reason I will simply link to his website here.
There is still plenty of work to be done: I admittedly write more than I do. Even now I am a little too absorbed in writing this, and every time I get up to do errands around the house you can witness me in absent-minded autopilot mode. While this might not sound earth-shattering, to be conscious of the emotions and thoughts I create within myself is a way of life will be essential to becoming a more joyful and competent person, come October at Oxford University and beyond.
Thank you for reading – please like or share if you would like to read more articles like this! Also, feel free to comment below with your own reflections, especially when at these pivotal junctures of life.
Keep reading and readjoicing,