As an immediate disclaimer: I use the word 'hate' in this post very loosely. Self hatred and mental health should never be taken lightly, and therefore I urge anyone dealing with such or any related emotions to seek professional help.
To avoid adding on to the monotonous succession of "everything is so great" posts on social media, I thought I'd pop in with something very real. This post was inspired last week, when I was in the middle of our university's bi-annual exam period. I rolled around in bed crying after an exam repeating the words "I hate myself."
Not the most uplifting or happiest of stories, but this moment certainly had me thinking of myself, my standards, and values. Last semester, I wrote a post with a similar undertone titled Being an overachiever sucks. While I knew then that I needed to worry less about my grades and more about my overall, general health and happiness, I felt like this exam period I learned nothing in that regard. In fact, I was even worse.
Back to that pathetic rolling-in-bed-crying-over-an-exam episode. This all happened after a discouraging nephrology exam. I really enjoyed nephro this semester. I like internal medicine, I liked our teacher, everything was great about the course. During the semester, nephro seminar was right after another semester-favorite, endocrinology. Also an internal med subject with a great teacher. Monday's were pretty bomb because all of my favorite classes (pediatrics, endo and nephro) were all packed in the same day. I enjoyed the subjects, studied them well...safe to say I was looking forward to each of these exams.
They were my worst exams of the semester.
And by "worst" I mean I got 4's.
I legitimately cried over the second best grade you could get. I'm no stranger to the world of female emotions so were my reactions hormonally fueled?
Absolutely. Perhaps. But the hit came from the fact that I couldn't understand the gravity of the truth:
Grades really don't matter.
The reason I felt this immense annoyance towards myself was my inability to understand that simple notion: the grades you get do not define how you are as student and future physician.
I don't think my emotions and reaction to an imperfect grade were invalid. In fact, it's normal for someone who likes a subject to seek recognition for their efforts. I wanted confirmation from my three favorite courses that I was doing everything not well, not average, but great.
While I know the difference between a 4 and a 5 is minimal, and in 10 years completely non-existent, why was I so devastated by the almost-perfect grades?
Because goal setting is stupid.
Setting a goal for myself last semester was probably the worst decision of my academic career. I set a goal to achieve at least a 4.5 GPA this year in order to receive a pretty hefty stipend for next year. Most people set goals to motivate themselves to do better, to achieve greatness. To me, my goals just caused me massive amounts of anxiety. Anxiety to the point where a stellar grade like 4 was unsatisfactory.
How is that a good thing?
It came to the point where I was embarassed to tell the story of how my exams ended when people would ask "how was nephrology?" Truthfully, to me, the exam was painful and uncomfortable. But in the end you got a 4, so that's great! Right? Why was I so upset over such a good grade?
Now cue the rolling-in-bed-crying "I hate myself" episode.
I hated myself for being an almost perfectionist. I hated myself for being dissatisfied with such good grades. I hated myself for being ambitious. I hated my standards. I hated the fact that the only time I sent my family smiley, post-exam selfies were when I got a 5.
My advise for people who already suffer with academic anxiety is to not set goals for yourself. Really. Just do as best you can, and, if in the end you're rewarded with a stipend, great! Because overall, all of that anxiety, stress, and self deprecation just isn't worth it. Medical school is hard enough as is. Don't add to the already colossal amount of stress with an added pressure. Because what I realized when I finished my exams: I was eligible for the stipend (even with all those incompetent persons 4's). I didn't need the stipend pressure to motivate me, because I would have gotten that GPA regardless. As if being motivated by grades and money isn't bad enough, your standards and sanity will change to a point where you look back and think "that was really stupid." Trust me.
A great semester isn't determined by your GPA. A great semester is defined by the material you learn, the skills you master, and how you feel in the end. To ensure success, go hang out with your friends.
Share a hug.
Just don't get to the point where you boyfriend has no other choice but to go buy you Oreos and pick you flowers to get a smile on your face.
Because at the end of the day, keeping your sanity and standards in the right place are what truly matters.
Take it from those guys. #DOCTORS 😉
To POTE students: To anyone who feels overwhelmed or just wants to talk, there is a free counseling service offered by the behavioral sciences department for all POTE students. To make an appointment, write an email to pzikon [at] aok.pte.hu. The service is completely free and anonymous. Let's all make an active effort to remove the stigma related to mental health!