I have been taught to put academics as my first priority all of my life. My parents, both of whom pursued higher education, always pushed my brothers and I to do our best in our schoolwork. I attended a school with a challenging curriculum that trained students from the sixth grade upwards on how to succeed in our European Baccalaureate exams. I was fortunate to grow up in a privileged environment where many of my peers pursued ambitious dreams, such as becoming veterinarians or architects. As a result of these pressures, I let my schoolwork in high school become the most important thing in my life, and spent late nights and weekends writing immaculate notes and reviewing my exam material.
When I entered college, everything changed. I had more demanding coursework than ever, from midterms to fifty-page weekly readings to figuring out how to write a thesis. But I also became entirely responsible for looking after my physical and mental well-being through the choices that I made. I started discovering my passions outside of schoolwork, such as theater and teaching, as well as developing connections with dear friends. I'm not trying to advocate that we should abandon schoolwork entirely to focus on other aspects in our life. After all, I'm here to get a degree, so I still put a ton of effort in the work that I do. My time at college, however, has taught me that school isn't the most important priority all of the time.
For one, I'm a firm believer that health comes before school work. I think that it's perfectly valid and important to prioritize our physical well-being because no one else will for us. We ourselves decide how healthy we are going to be because there is no one who is telling us when to go to bed, or when dinner is ready. So I often try to place my health first, such as choosing to get a good night of sleep before a midterm instead of studying the material to the best of my ability. Even more than physical health, I believe that it's crucial to prioritize mental health at the cost of school work. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I know that giving my all to my schoolwork all the time will cause my mental health to decrease, so I sometimes allow academics to take the back burner to focus on taking care of myself. The times that I haven't been feeling my best, both physically and mentally, have taught me that my health is so valuable and should not be sacrificed in order to have a perfect score.
Along with prioritizing health, I try to occasionally prioritize the activities I'm involved with outside the classroom. I know that we're primarily here for academics, but I believe that we should take full advantage of being in an environment where we can invest in our passions and try new interests with little cost or expense. This spring semester, I became involved in a production of Much Ado About Nothing and quickly realized that I had much less time to spend in my academic work. All the same, I value my experience because I pursued a passion that I always wanted to try, even at the expense of getting a lower grade or two. Even though I wish that I could have given my absolute best to both my schoolwork and my play, I trust that I made the right decision because the experience that I've had in theater will be remembered for much longer than the grades that I got.
Even though I value both health and extracurriculars, I believe that the most important aspect we can sacrifice our schoolwork for is our relationships. I've found some of my nearest and dearest friends and college and, even though we study together, I know I'll remember the fun we had goofing around in the stacks in between units more than the grade we got on our exams. The growth and support we can gain from our peers is priceless, yet I believe that college relationships are especially important because they allow us to help others rather than simply serving ourselves. Throughout my time in college, I've chosen answering the call from a friend in crisis or listening to a resident tell me what's on their hearts over my assignments. Even though these situations scare me because they might hinder me from performing my best academically, I trust that helping my friends has a higher value than the level of perfection I can achieve on a singular grade.
I don't always prioritize areas of my life over my schoolwork - in fact, I spend hours per week studying, reading and revising in order to achieve the best grades I can. Yet I believe that a balanced life also includes looking after myself, pursuing what I love and encouraging those around me. I know we're all in a busy season of schoolwork, but I encourage you to take inventory of your life and assess what truly matters. Ask yourself what will be more important in twenty years. Will you remember how you spent all of your time in the library studying at the expense of everything else? Or will you remember how you felt fulfilled in all areas of your life after you realized that academics doesn't always have to be your first priority?