When Do We Let Go of What We Want, and Focus on What We Need?

It seems like it’s human nature to always seek something to accomplish in life. Not just small things, but big things. Conversely, we make the small things appear crucial to our success. In order to be successful, we believe that we must get everything right, down to the smallest detail. When we mess up- when, not if, because we’re bound to mess up eventually- we’re overly harsh on ourselves. How are we going to accomplish the wonderful things we have in mind, we wonder, if we can’t even get simple tasks done right? We’re constantly pressuring ourselves and ignoring our needs for the sake of following our dreams. It may not be easy, and we may lose ourselves along the way, but it’s worth it- at least that’s what we tell ourselves. We’re pushed to follow our dreams, either by ourselves or others, but at what cost? When does our quest for success stop fulfilling us, and start destroying us?

Ambition and perfectionism are a double-edged sword. They are incredibly powerful motivators, but they also have the power to destroy. The line between want and need can quickly become blurred. I’ve learned this the hard way. Living with chronic illness forces me to choose my battles, and I tend to bite off more than I can chew. I convince myself that I can do everything I want, while still listening to my body and taking care of my physical & emotional health. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Balancing the two requires sacrifice.

My grades and schoolwork have dictated my life for longer than I can remember. I’ve always seen success in school as my escape from the limitations of chronic illness. My body might be failing me, but my intelligence isn’t. When my doctor exempted me from gym class, I replaced that free block with an AP class. I honestly don’t remember a time when I’ve ever passed up a chance to challenge myself academically. That’s just who I’ve always been- an overachiever. Recently, some worsening health issues have caused me to reconsider this mindset. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean that I should. Years of prioritizing academics over my physical and emotional wellbeing have taken their toll on me. I’ve pushed my body and my mind past their breaking point. Not to say that I wouldn’t be sick if I had been easier on myself, but I might not be lying awake every night, hating my body for betraying me when I need it the most; hating my mind for worrying nonstop about how I could manage to finish all my missing schoolwork over the summer. I might not be agonizing over due dates long gone and terrified to open my email, in case I got the dreaded message confirming that I had failed, despite my best efforts.

Well, last Friday I finally got an email like that. I had failed two tests for my AP class. My teacher had already suggested I drop the class months ago, but I refused to quit. Now, I was left with the choice of dropping the class with a passing grade, or having those test grades put in and hoping for some sort of miracle that would allow me to finish the months of missing work I still had, and making sure I didn’t fail any of those assignments. I would also need to do that for three other subjects simultaneously. I had enough. I couldn’t continue living like this, my life a blur of missing work, doctor’s appointments, and never-ending stress & tears. Yesterday, I saw my school counselor. I dropped not only my AP class, but also my honors science class. I had already taken the corresponding AP test for that class, so I may still receive college credit for it (I don’t have my hopes up, though). I’ll be retaking that science class next year- I’ll just be at grade level in science instead of a year ahead. It was a tough decision, but I’m surprisingly okay with it. I decided to let go of what I want, and focus on what I need. I want to have a perfect high school transcript and 4.0 GPA. However, I don’t need this, and will never achieve it if I don’t give myself time and space to recover. I need to be more gentle with myself, and realize that the decision I made wasn’t quitting if it’s what’s best for me. If I kept subjecting myself to unreasonable expectations, I would be giving up on my health, which is what I should be prioritizing. I still have other school subjects to take care of over the summer, but I finally feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I have a manageable workload and a reasonable plan- I couldn’t be happier.

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