I’m an overachiever by nature. My Type A personality compels me to achieve my goals at all costs. For the majority of my life, my sole objective has been academic success.
Throughout high school, my perfectionism was rewarded with immaculate grades. However, when I arrived at Berkeley, I quickly learned that excelling in college was more difficult.
Here, perfect scores on exams were harder to come by than four leaf clovers in the Unit 2 courtyard. Determined to uphold my academic record, I spent my first year of college working myself to the bone.
Unfortunately, the constant academic strain, accompanied by my preexisting depression and anxiety, was detrimental to my mental health. I ended my freshman year with a GPA I was proud of, but instead of feeling happy, I was unbearably exhausted.
I entered my sophomore year with unprecedented burnout. I knew I couldn’t feed my hunger for instant success without putting my wellness in jeopardy. Instead, I crafted a semester-long 5-part plan to resist my appetite for perfection — sacrificing my overachieving habits in favor of my mental health.
Part 1: Sleep.
My plan began with erasing the dark circles beneath my eyes that had plagued me since high school. When classes started in August, I slept through them when I felt too tired to comfortably attend. On most days, my roommate had already been to multiple classes by the time I rolled out of bed for lunch.
Waking up no earlier than noon, I began my afternoons feeling fully rested, with the energy required to propel me through the day.
Part 2: Enroll in DSP. You know you need it.
Having learned to prioritize my sleep and health, I decided to tackle the next hurdle to my wellness: enrolling in Berkeley’s Disabled Students’ Program. Upon signing up for DSP, I received excused course absences as an accommodation to be used when my depressive and anxious symptoms were particularly severe.
When I was desperately in need of a few extra hours of sleep and a long, hot shower, my accommodations allowed me to take a day off. The time away let me restore my mental health, and I could return to class the next day with the energy needed to be fully present.
Part 3: Party. But seriously, you should go to that dayger.
Living in a sorority house, invitations for parties amassed throughout the semester. Putting the pressure of school aside, I dove headfirst into the party scene on campus. I went out the night before my first day of classes; I spent Saturday afternoons soaking in the energy of college life even when I had an exam the next day.
I won’t lie, partying isn’t a medically approved treatment for improving mental wellness. But going out helped me realize that it was okay to have fun, even when it conflicted with my academics. For me, a recovering overachiever, letting loose was just what the doctor ordered.
Part 4: Don’t read the whole book.
In college, it’s typical to be assigned hundreds of pages of reading every night. I decided to view my readings as more of a recommendation than a requirement. If a reading was imperative to course material, I dutifully completed it. If not, I shamelessly skimmed through the pages before tossing it aside, always sure to highlight a line I could use as a talking point in my discussion section.
Without unnecessary reading, I had ample time to engage in self-care. I started going on hikes, frequenting bookstores and perfecting my skincare routine, all things I wouldn’t have had time for if I’d paid attention to those dense pages of theory.
Part 5: When all else fails, flee the city.
There were still times throughout the semester when I found myself overwhelmed by the lingering desire to achieve — a desire that could not be met by the last four parts of my plan. When this happened, I resorted to the only option I had left, number 5: I ran away from my problems.
My escapism peaked with an unexpected trip to Puerto Rico during Dead Week. I returned with a tattoo of a heart on my wrist and a dozen piña coladas in my stomach — no regrets whatsoever for avoiding my academic responsibilities.
When I reached the end of the semester, my mental health had climbed to unforeseen heights. No perfect essay or aced exam could compare to the blissful mental state I’d managed to achieve.
While I’d expected and accepted that my plan would irreparably tank my GPA, my end-of-semester grades ended up being completely fine. Upon seeing the still perfectly passable marks on my transcript, I was pleased, but I was also struck by the revelation that I would’ve been fine with far worse. To me, that acceptance of failure was the greatest success I could hope to achieve.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend following this plan — my step-by-step rebellion against academic achievement. There are probably more effective ways to do it than sleeping through class and partying into the night, but it worked for me. And, if it works for you too? So be it.