On Friday, Oct. 1, I woke up at 7:30 a.m., ready to get in some morning exercise before my work shift at 9:00 a.m. Within the next several hours, I developed into a sniveling mess, tormented by a pounding headache and the occasional sneeze. Quickly realizing that I was sick, I was hit by a wave of panic — I had an ungodly amount of work I had planned to get done that day.
Of course, there are some obvious reasons why I got sick — I had not been sleeping well or eating enough for the past several weeks. But why had I been neglecting my physical health?
This reason was also obvious: toxic Meliora culture. Underlying those factors was a mentality of unhealthy perfectionism, taking the desire to be the best version of myself too far. This semester, I overwhelmed myself by taking 22 credits, balancing three different part-time jobs, and staying involved in extracurricular activities. I had way too much on my plate, and it took me getting physically sick to realize that I needed a break.
Laying in bed, I was itching to get productive again. My gut reaction was to make a new plan. I conceded that I was not going to finish all of my assignments, but at least I could be productive — make a new schedule to get right back on track the next week. Ironically, one of the assignments I had to submit that night was an Instagram post for the Health Promotion Office. It was when I was hashing together a post about how to tell when you need a break that I realized I was a hypocrite. Of all the people who needed to know when to stop working and take a break, I was out there telling others to practice better habits.
In the past 24 hours or so, I have been reflecting on my motivations and goals — what exactly fuels my perfectionism? My reasons for working hard and productivity were misplaced; rather than deriving my diligence from some intrinsic goal, I was purely focused on the extrinsic accomplishments I would receive. By no means do I consider myself a transformed person after just two days. I’m still figuring out what exactly I should be striving for.
I think all us college students have some level of awareness how perfectionism can be self-destructive and unhealthy. Nevertheless, many of us engage in it. We often rationalize our unhealthy behaviors — getting good grades will help us in our future endeavors, we ought to make the most of our time at a private institution we fork out so much money to attend, taking a break is unproductive, etc. I am certainly guilty of this negative self-talk.
It’s not surprising that many of us, myself included, have such thoughts. Not only do we attend an institution filled with workaholics and find ourselves in a perpetual state of midterms season, we see it online. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “that girl” trend that has taken the lifestyle and fashion TikTok community by storm.
When I first came across the “that girl” trend this past summer, I saw it as a convoluted way of justifying toxic productivity and perfectionism. “That girl” wakes up at 6 a.m., makes her bed, practices some yoga or meditation, and has matcha and fruits for breakfast while journaling. Although this may be a perfectly feasible lifestyle for some individuals, it felt oddly prescriptive and materialistic.
However, there is one redeeming quality about the “that girl” trend. One of the main ways I’ve heard people characterize this trend is its emphasis on romanticizing your life. Something you might notice about some of the videos and TikToks on the “that girl” trend is being fully present in the moment, appreciating what you have, and accepting your life the way it is. It does seem slightly contradictory given that it perpetuates some ideal lifestyle, but the people in these reels and TikToks seem to genuinely enjoy it.
Of course, I still believe that this trend has its flaws and feeds into the perfectionist culture, but it has taught me to reflect on my motivations for living the way I do. I didn’t really take the time to sit back and simply be present in the moment; rather, I was just going through the motions.
It’s never easy to sit back and introspect, but I think we can all learn a thing or two about ourselves if we just allow that 5-minute break at the end of the day.