It’s pretty late right now, but I feel the need to write. So let’s do it.
In high school, my Prime Directive was to get high grades and participate in extra-curricular activities, not only because I wanted to enroll in a good university, but also because I felt the need to compete with my fellow Asian peers (disclaimer: I actually did enjoy most of the extra-curricular activities so please don’t think I’m some manipulative sucker who does things I don’t enjoy just to put them on a resume). To prepare for tests, I would start studying 3-4 weeks in advance, re-read the course materials at least a dozen times, and practiced and memorized hundreds of answers to previous test questions. To increase participation in extra-curricular activities. I almost never played video games or went out except during birthday parties, summer break, or winter holidays.
It was my core belief that getting high grades was pivotal to getting into a good university because that’s what everyone tole me. After four years of never-ending studying, I had an average of 96.5%, but at a large expense. I was consistently tired, easily worried, and was most likely depressed. Only a couple people knew of this, and among those who did, unfortunately, nobody offered any help or support. By the end of Grade 12, I daydreamed about fantasies on a regular basis (not that type of fantasies! More like Eragon/Avatar/magical things-style fantasies), watched movies until well past midnight, and worried about trivial things, sometimes even worrying that I was worrying! On the social scene, I had made several great friends (whom I’m still in contact with today) but also accumulated more than a handful of toxic “friends”, people who were more than eager to take advantage of me and then tried to backstab me when I really needed their help.
It had been impressed upon me that all my lifestyle and friendship problems would automagically sort themselves out once I began studying at Waterloo. My lifestyle would magically become more balanced, and I would magically make good friends and stay away from toxic ones.
After eight months of studying at Waterloo, in the midst of preparing for finals, I had an epiphany: Many of my classmates had much lower averages and less extracurricular activities back in high school but they were also accepted into Waterloo, and now, we’re now all in the same class preparing for the same exams. Whether we had studied 20 hours to get a 92% or 40 hours to get a 96% didn’t matter, because we all ended up in the same place. The realization that I could have studied less and still would have been accepted into Waterloo was extremely unsettling. How many hundreds of hours could I have saved by studying less? I had always believed having high grades was very pivotal to getting into enrolled because everybody said so, but that belief couldn’t be true because many of my classmates didn’t have as high grades. So if that belief wasn’t true, what other beliefs did I hold that weren’t true? Hmmmm….
I then came to realize that my unhealthy lifestyle problems developed during high school didn’t automagically sort themselves out, as I had thought they would. I was still tired, worried, and mildly depressed. I was still sleeping late, daydreaming of fantasies, and continued to have toxic “friends” and even a dangerous roommate. In fact, said roommate seemed to make it his goal to subtly make me miserable, passive aggressively spreading falsehoods about me, accusing me of things he knew I didn’t do (things that he did himself), harassing me by posting disparaging sticky notes on my door, and laughing wildly at 1:30AM when all my other roommates were quietly whispering!
Nothing had changed! I had followed the conventional advice, the unspoken contract with the universe, that if I studied hard and did well in school, my life would become better. While I upheld my side of the contract, the other party never upheld its part. Life didn’t become any better for me!
I realized I had somehow bought into the belief that my lifestyle and quality of friendships would improve simply because I focused on getting good grades. Looking back, this was an unhealthy way of thinking. My lifestyle would improve only when I focused on improving it; and the same goes for the quality of my friendships. Focusing on getting better grades would surely result in better grades, but not a better lifestyle or quality of friends because they’re mostly independent of each other. An analogy to this is that a farmer plants apple seeds, and expects them to grow into not only apple trees, but also orange trees and lemon trees!
Here are the lessons I learned from this epiphany:
- Do not blindly trust in conventional advice, especially those that begin with “If you study hard and do well in school….”. Aim to think for yourself and critically examine other people’s advice
- If you want to grow lemon trees, then plant lemon seeds. Don’t expect to grow lemon trees out of apple seeds. To develop a better lifestyle, one must do something to improve one’s lifestyle. Doing something unrelated to it likely won’t improve it.