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When your eyes are bigger than your stomach

The trial and error of a student who bites off more than they can chew

By Taylor Wilson-Sipkema, 3rd-year Engineer

A recurring topic between my housemates and I has been how many students feel the pressure to be ridiculously over-achieving at Queen’s. By “overachieving,” I mean the impossible drive to get good grades, be an executive member for 5 different clubs, participate in athletics at a varsity level and still squeeze in the odd Tumbleweed Tuesday or Alfie’s Throwback – all the while making it look effortless and completely attainable. So much pressure!

We’ve come to the general conclusion that Queen’s leads to this kind of pressure because of the personal statement of experience required by every high-school applicant, as well as the school’s extensive alumni network.  Now that’s not to say that everyone feels this kind of pressure to perform at an elite level in all of their pursuits – but it is definitely pretty common here. And it can lead to feelings of low self-worth and unfair comparisons to others.

Before you continue reading, I want you to stop for a minute and congratulate yourself on a job well-done just for being here. You’re at university and your future couldn’t be any brighter. If you’ve ever felt that, since you came to Queen’s, you’ve lost that golden-child flair you had in high school, then you are like many other students.

After researching this topic, I found the term was coined as “Big Fish in a Big Pond.” Students often experience enormous pressure to be the perfect student in order to compete with their peers. But even the biggest of fish can bite off more than they can chew.

Ironically enough, the inspiration for this blog came from a realization I had that maybe I myself had in fact took on more than I could handle. I’ll admit that I came to Queen’s as one of those students that had a long track list of achievements, wide-eyed and full of confidence in my abilities. Being the ambitious student that I was, I also chose engineering as my undergraduate degree…just to keep things interesting.

I’m sure you can tell by the tone of this blog that things maybe didn’t go according to plan. After my first year I had lost all confidence. I constantly compared myself to others and felt like I wasn’t as capable as the rest of my classmates.

Fortunately, instead of letting this pressure get the best of me, I learned from my experiences. In my second year, I sought out the help of Learning Strategies. This ultimately saved my academic career and also brought me to becoming a Peer Learning Assistant. I gained back the reassurance that I once had in high school and felt I was capable of getting involved in extra-curriculars.

Always remember that quality is better than quantity. It’s better to only bite off what you can chew and really excel in those areas of your life as opposed to just doing things for the sake of competition. Although it can be a hard decision to give things up, there are only 24 hours in a day. For your health, it’s good to prioritize — and Learning Strategies has information on prioritizing and making those decisions stick.

All of this talk about getting involved and doing well in school can be overwhelming, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, know this…

There is a light at the end of this 4 (or more) year tunnel.

Research also uncovers the effect that pressure may have on students when they graduate. You’ll be ready to take on the real world, where we are not all perfect and we can’t do it all. I hope we learn to understand our capabilities and limits, and be happy with who we are.

Stress is normal and sometimes even helpful, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are resources available. You might start by reading our tips on coping with exam and/or academic anxiety.

Feature image courtesy of hikingartist under the Creative Commons license.