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Opinion | Students should abandon ideas of perfection, focus on learning to ‘manage gracefully’

caprezkm@muohio.edu

Published: Monday, November 5, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 22:11

“How’s it going?” “So how are things?” “How’s Miami treating ya?” Questions like these are frequently confronted by Miami students, especially during road marker events like parents’ weekend. How a person answers questions like these relies largely upon the nature of the relationship between himself or herself and the asker. Like a lot of students, when I know my parents are worried about me making my way in the big scary college world, I’ll fudge the truth a bit and tell them everything is fine, even if I’m having trouble.

I’m fortunate to have a family who genuinely cares about my happiness and well-being. That said, I know the answers that most every member is looking for when they ask these kinds of questions include positive sentiments, funny anecdotes and a few half-hearted complaints about things like tiny rooms and doing my own laundry. No one wants to hear that I’ve perhaps bitten off more than I can chew by taking eighteen credit hours while trying to hold a job, compete in mock trial, juggle other extracurriculars, assimilate to life on my own and make a meager attempt at having a social life.

And even if I’m telling other people I’m “just fine!” I definitely don’t believe it myself. Because the “do it all, have it all” ideal has infiltrated the recesses of my mind, I’ve established certain (high) expectations of myself. Like many Miami students, I came here with lofty goals to get perfect grades, create a stellar resume full of activities, make tons of friends and just be incredibly happy. If I didn’t accomplish those goals, I believed I would be a failure. The problem I see in my and many other young students’ attitudes is that if we aren’t accomplishing all our goals immediately, and without subjecting ourselves to undue stress, we think we have failed. This flawed state of mind leads us nowhere positive. What we oftentimes fail to realize is that we are holding ourselves to an impossible standard that few—I’d wager, none—of our peers are attaining.

In Sylvia Boorstein’s book “Its Easier Than You Think,” the first chapter of which is called “Managing Gracefully,” she reflects upon a gathering of American Buddhist meditation teachers. As the group mills around discussing the past year’s significant events, Boorstein hears many offer answers like “I’m pretty content,” and “I’m doing all right.”

Boorstein notes that many around her had suffered significant losses and all had run-of-the-mill problems, and though they were perhaps struggling or dealing with pain, they were okay.

One doesn’t have to pursue Buddhist meditation as a vocation to see the merit of Boorstein’s idea. Perfectionism rarely leads to personal satisfaction. The pursuit of academic greatness often puts a strain on interpersonal relationships. The quest to de-stress might require the sacrifice of a night of studying and cause a lowered grade. Indeed, the idea that the important aspects of college are academics, social living and sleep, and that a student must choose two at the expense of the third, is quite often proven true.

What we must realize is that no one person is perfect. We must acknowledge life’s learning curve and accept that pain and concern are intrinsic parts of life. As we do so, we can accept the idea that though we are stressed or concerned, we are doing all right. We must believe ourselves when we answer concerned family members with assurances that we are “okay” even if our lives are less than flawless. The key is to remain calm, maintain perspective, and cope while remaining poised.

As students approach the final half of the semester and the beginning of an often-stressful holiday season, we should take Boorstein’s sentiment to heart: “Managing gracefully is not second-rate…Managing gracefully or even semi-gracefully is terrific.”

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