I tend to brace myself for the worst. When I receive a notification from Canvas, “Exam 2 Has Been Graded,” I assume I failed. When I get a sudden phone call from home, I imagine the worst has occurred. When I get a text message, “I have to talk to you about something,” I think of anything I could have done to upset the sender. I also consider myself a very self-critical person. While we are often our own biggest critics, and this holds especially true at Yale, recognizing this will allow us to break free from our bad habits, to be charitable with ourselves and to live healthier lives.
Though I believe that considering all possible outcomes is indicative of diligence and preparation, I have also developed the habit of internalizing this feeling. This has caused my bleak outlook to flow onto other aspects of my life. Most detrimentally, my tendency to pick apart every little thing has begun to affect more than just my expectations. I’ve internalized this despondency which has, in turn, allowed it to manifest itself within my academic experience.
If I speak in class and get an answer wrong, it never remains at just that. I begin to tell myself it is not because I was simply unsure. In spite of the fact that others may be equally confused, I tell myself it is because I am not smart enough to understand, that it is always a failure on my end alone. The seemingly simple mistake contributes to the bigger picture I have painted of myself. While there is a part of me that knows this isn’t true and that mistakes are inevitable, there is another, more pessimistic part of my mind that thinks these unkind thoughts. It never fails to rear its ugly head.
It is common knowledge that colleges and universities are beginning to take massive strides toward addressing the mental and emotional health problems that are incredibly prevalent on campuses. Moreover, the fact that university students struggle with anxiety and depression at alarming rates is a major concern for elite college campuses around the world. But these developments don’t happen in a vacuum — they’re the product of immense pressure coupled with our own self-criticism.
As students at Yale, we encounter academic and personal challenges that we’ve never experienced before on a regular basis. Personally, I am incredibly grateful that these challenges have taught me about myself and the way I handle pressure. But I know my performance, and that of many others, is inhibited both inside and outside the classroom because we experience constant self-doubt. Our worries make us our own worst enemies — fighting the urge to be upset with ourselves is the first step to achieving smoother college lives.
It is an incredibly important skill to be mindful of when we are wrong and where there is room for growth. Acknowledging that there is much we do not know and that we can benefit from learning this information is what allows us to flourish and work hard during our undergraduate years and beyond. The issue arises when our critiques of ourselves speak louder than everything else. This tendency, to be our own biggest critic, is not inevitable and detrimental when it goes unchecked. It would be a major disservice to ourselves to spend all of our efforts during these college years focusing solely on our mistakes.
So as I continue my time here, I have made the decision to pursue a more positive self-image, and you should, too. For some reason, I find that I am able to show love and compassion to everyone except myself. I don’t want to live that way anymore, and neither should you. We are only given four years at this university to achieve everything we wish. Let’s not spend them questioning the potential that everyone else already sees in us.
LEILA JACKSON is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .