The Overachiever's Dilemma: Why Bother?
Darya Farah Foroohar
October 10th, 2018
For my whole life, I have considered myself to be a very ambitious person with countless goals for the future that relate to all the areas of my life. I am on multiple sports teams, in various clubs, am able to write for publications like this one, and still (or have previously been able to) manage my school work. I am also a very anxious person, both socially or academically, always thinking about the worst that could happen and everything I have done wrong. But lately, what has come over me is this incredible feeling of apathy-- and it’s threatening to destroy everything I’ve worked for.
Before, my ambition, fueled by nerves, was enough to keep me constantly functioning, always completing assignments days before they were due and keeping up with all my extracurriculars. Lately, though, I have been slacking. I choose to sleep instead of study. I let opportunities slide instead of grabbing them at once. I write this article instead of my essay on Tolstoy’s short stories. And I know my actions will have consequences, but I don’t seem to make myself do anything. This is not to say I no longer feel anxiety-- I do, but it has no effect. Now, instead of using my nerves to be productive, I just anxiously scroll through Instagram, my conscious screaming into the void while my eyes glaze over. My heart pounds faster and faster as I waste my time, my chances, my life.
There is no better example that shows this mix of apathy and anxiety than this year’s cross country season. I am far from the best runner NYC has to offer, but I still aspire to improve my times and snag a medal or two in the smaller meets. Before every meet, however, I am consumed with worry. I fidget, annoy my teammates with my anxious chatter, and dry my sweaty palms on my uniform shorts, but nothing helps. I get so nervous I feel ill, my stomach hurting and my mouth dry. But as soon as the gun goes off, all sense of worry, of purpose, even, vanishes, replaced by a desire to simply finish as painlessly as possible. I slow down when the hills get tough, or when the sun beats down on my face, or when I simply cannot be bothered to go fast anymore. The part of me that screams when someone passes me (there’s a lot of screaming) is no longer in control of my own body and must watch in vain as I squander my medals and waste precious seconds that could have been saved if I had just wanted it more.
After I finish, of course, it hits me-- the shame, anger, and self-loathing-- and I am overwhelmed with emotion. I vow to do better, to try harder, next time. But it rarely pays off, because for all the nervous energy coursing through my veins, when I run, I do not want to be in pain. Why bother?, I think. Medals don’t matter. Times don’t matter. All that matters is no longer being uncomfortable. But, of course, these things do matter, or else I wouldn’t be feeling so terrible after I finish.
This apathy is creeping into other aspects of my life, and while some people tell me it’s good, that I should give myself a break, I know that right now I cannot afford one. I am a Junior™, taking my first college classes at my school and prepping for the SAT, so I know that any slip-up could potentially destroy my college chances. I compare myself to my peers and see that it is I who would not be accepted to a hypothetical college if we were both to apply, and this thought fills me with dread. Students are told to live up to our potential, to flaunt our assets, to be productive in order to get into a good college. A good college will help us follow our dreams so we can lead happy lives. But I am not sure what, exactly, I want my life to look like right now. All this stress for so many different things sometimes seems awfully futile, for I know I will leave most of them behind. Why should I put effort into something I love if I am going to have to leave it behind? Why should I put effort into becoming myself if I don’t know who I want to be?
The perfectionist in me wants to excel, wants to be the best. But the sheer number of other people who are good has made me realize that I am not the best and will probably never be. It still feels uncomfortable, admitting this in such a public way, which I think is a good thing. But what is not a good thing is that instead of accepting I am not the best and still trying, something inside me gives up. I still try, but I already admit defeat, choosing short-term ease over long-term satisfaction and pride in my efforts. Instead of becoming a good sport, I have become nothing. I just need to find a reason why it all matters so that I am able to try again, to pick up the pieces of my damaged pride, and care once more.