College students are competitive. We vie for good grades, the same internships, leadership positions in extracurricular activities, and sometimes – just for the fun of it – for the title of Hardest Worker.
I’m in my third year at the University of Chicago, and I’m surrounded by people who proudly go to unhealthy extremes to do well in school. Or, at least, better than some arbitrary other person.
“I ordered a pizza at midnight and drank 5 Red Bulls, and I’m still not done with my problem set.”
“It’s midterm season. I haven’t slept for two days.”
“You don’t have caffeine pills? That’s the only way I get through this time of the quarter.”
As you might guess, I don’t really relate. I give myself time to sleep at least 7 hours a night, work out about 6 days a week, have a consistent yoga practice, and eat plenty of vegetables and protein balanced by plenty of chocolate and ice cream. And while I’m actually very proud of that, I find that my habits are subject to some subtle – and not-so-subtle – health shaming.
“I don’t know how you can just go to bed at 10. There’s a midterm tomorrow!”
“It must be nice to have time to go for a run. I need to study.”
“I have no idea how you have time to cook vegetables. Microwave ramen is all I have time for with all this reading.”
We are a smart bunch of young adults. Where on Earth did we get the idea that health and high achievement are mutually exclusive? I’m a better student because I take some time to pursue non-academic endeavors. The same way your body can get burnt out from working out too much, your mind can get tired from (school)working too hard. When I can’t absorb one more word of Plato, trying to read five more chapters isn’t going to do me any good. When I’m so tired I can hardly see straight, trying to work through an econ problem set probably isn’t the best idea.
So, I go nourish myself elsewhere. Sometimes that means going to the gym, and other times it just means taking a nap or hanging out with friends.
Is high achievement worth sacrificing your health?
But this isn’t a story about how I take care of myself. It’s about the importance of taking care of yourself in general. After all, how much better is that A going to make your life than an A- or B+? Is it worth skipping out on a fun night with your friends or a restful night of sleep?
I am never going to say, “Don’t work hard. Don’t set big goals.” Why? Because I truly believe those are important. I do work hard and I do set big goals. They give me a purpose with my actions. However, at the end of the day, I think it’s more important to check in with yourself. Are those goals enriching your life? Or are they making you miserable?
Does health shaming serve anyone?
If you opt to pull a ton of all-nighters and subsist solely on caffeine and sugar, that is your choice. If your best friend decides he or she wants to eat healthy, balanced meals and hit the gym regularly, that is his or her choice. Making him or her feel bad for taking care of him or herself help you probably doesn’t make you feel any better about your decisions, and it only makes him or her feel worse.
As long as you’re doing what feels right for you, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else is doing. So you do you. But take care of yourself, too.
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