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Anyone Can Get an A+ by Geetanjali Mukherjee

Anyone Can Get an A+

by Geetanjali Mukherjee

Giveaway ends January 14, 2017.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Don’t Compare Yourself To Your Peers

A recent article in the New York Times describes how smart, talented and outwardly successful students are falling prey to depression and mental health issues, some even taking their own lives because they feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect. According to an organization that spreads awareness about mental health issues among students, more than half of all college students have had suicidal thoughts, and 1 in 10 have seriously considered ending their life. Every year in the United States, approximately 1,100 college students commit suicide.

These statistics are chilling, but what is worse is that they stem from feelings of isolation, of being alone, and of not being good enough compared to their peers. In an age when we are just a click away from knowing everything everyone is doing, we can’t help but constantly compare ourselves to others and fall short in our own estimation.

All around us people are accomplishing incredible feats – starting companies, landing record deals, becoming internet celebrities. It’s become pretty common to be intimidated by all the seemingly amazing things others can do, and to doubt ourselves. Sometimes it feels like anyone who isn’t doing something out of the ordinary must be lacking in some way.

In the New York Times article, the writer describes how a student contemplating suicide compared herself to her classmates and found herself lacking. “Friends’ lives, as told through selfies, showed them having more fun, making more friends and going to better parties. Even the meals they posted to Instagram looked more delicious.” Social media compounds our natural insecurities, showing us in glossy images and excited punctuation that exactly as we feared, those around us are living far more exciting and meaningful lives. And we start to think that this reflects poorly on us.

The thing is, though, we don’t really know everything everyone is doing. We only see the perfect, happy, filtered images. We don’t see the struggles and mistakes and sacrifices; we see the end product, the moment of happiness, the rare triumph. And from that we assume the rest – this person is happier, prettier, more successful, and by extension, we aren’t good enough.

And make no mistake, most of us go to incredible lengths to preserve this image of perfection. When I was in high school, my peers would habitually exaggerate how hard they were working - telling me how they had already completed going over the syllabus several times, and how many hours they were studying. I believed them, and got nervous, and stepped up my own studying, thinking that the amount I was doing wasn't enough to pass the exams with good grades. I tried to imitate my classmates' habits, even though it was only much later that I realized that they hadn't exactly been telling me (or each other) the truth.

When we look around us, or read about successful people, the primary message that comes across is how talented someone is, and how inevitable it was that they would succeed. Success is shown to us as a straight line, heading in one direction, up. There are no detours, no turn-arounds, no missteps allowed. Faced with intense competition for spots in top colleges, scholarships and jobs, in an increasingly less-certain world, young people today face even greater pressure to have perfect resumes and transcripts. When you aren’t allowed to fail, either due to the expectations of others or yourself, although it may seem like you are being pragmatic and focusing on how to succeed, you are actually making it that much harder for yourself.

In her influential book Mindset, renowned psychologist Carol Dweck describes research that shows that the way we approach learning makes a difference to how much we learn. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to stumble a little while you learn something new, and eventually you can surpass someone who is incredibly bright but is too afraid to try something in which they might do badly and risk looking dumb. There are also some students who work hard, but put themselves under such intense pressure to succeed at all costs, they can end up burning out, or doing poorly simply because they succumbed to stress.

In The Pursuit of Perfect, Harvard psychologist Professor Tal Ben-Shahar says that those with an overly perfectionist outlook have unrealistic ideas of success – believing that they can’t afford to make any mistakes or show any weaknesses. They focus on the destination more than the journey. Someone who has a more realistic outlook on the other hand, sees failure as “an opportunity for receiving feedback.  Because she isn’t intensely afraid of failure, she can learn from it – when she fails at something, she…learns what set her back. She then tries again…” Doing something badly then is how we learn to do something well.

Looking at peers and how they do things may not necessarily be optimal.  A little friendly rivalry doesn’t hurt; in fact it can actually spur you on. However, if comparing to others is pulling you down, it does more harm than good. The smartest strategy sometimes means simply ignoring the others completely and doing what works for you. Instead of comparing yourself to what others around you are doing, focus on what you can do, what you're good at, or what is possible for you.

The years of being a student are short; they go by in a flash. Would you rather spend your time pursuing things that matter to you, things that you have always been curious to explore, things that you may not necessarily be good at but would like to try; or would you prefer to be bound by the path chosen by others, wondering if you are measuring up to accomplishments that you haven’t even asked yourself if you really care about? The poet Mary Oliver summed it up when she said, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

This is an edited excerpt from my book "Anyone Can Get An A+: How To Beat Procrastination, Reduce Stress and Improve Your Grades". Click here to buy this book from your preferred retailer:

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