A couple of days before the semester started I went to meet some classmates for brunch. Having spent the last few weeks in our respective hometowns, the meal was filled with stories from break and conversation about the new semester.
About halfway into the reunion, an awkward pause interrupted the discussion as a notification popped up on all of our phone screens—a message from one of our classmates that the first of our final grades were out.
A wave of nervousness fell over me, made of equal parts anticipation and dread. I had been waiting all break on these grades. But as I looked to the other people at the table, I did not sense the quite the same reaction. They almost looked…relaxed? I mentioned the notification, and they shrugged it off. One person even said that they were not checking their grades until the upcoming weekend, not wanting to focus on school too early before the start of the new semester. I struggled to comprehend the concept of waiting days for the grade while my peers carried on, seemingly unbothered by the anxiety I felt looming over me.
I checked my grade on the way home from brunch, but it was the reaction of my friends that I could not get out of my head, not the test score I had waited weeks to see. Why was I so astonished at their reaction?
I started to wonder: maybe it wasn’t just my reaction to the grades that differed, but my entire perception of success. Of course, grades are the ultimate indicator of success in a class, but I had taken it a step further, not allowing myself to feel any sense of pride or accomplishment for finishing my first semester without checking my grades and ensuring they were up to my standards. It was like I had been holding my breath for the entirety of winter break, waiting desperately to breathe a sigh of relief I might never feel I deserved.
So instead of dwelling on my grades like I had been doing, I took a moment to think about other achievements of the semester. I thought about moving across the country to a place I would have never expected to live and somehow making it feel comfortable. I thought about many of my classmates who had left successful careers in different industries to pursue a career in law and the courage it took to do so. I thought about us all starting a new chapter in our lives, regardless of where we were before, and somehow making it through.
These achievements cannot be measured by grades or by rank, but that shouldn’t make them less important than the achievements that can.
Seeing things through a different lens really helped me. Though the pressure and weight of grades did and will continue to remain high, my perception of success no longer seemed to rely on them alone. After weeks of uncomfortable anticipation, I suddenly felt a sense of composure I realized I had lost in the midst of the semester.
Going into a new semester, I hope to maintain this newfound perspective of success. I think it will make me a better student and a calmer person.
Perhaps most importantly—it will make me a more enthused brunch guest.
Devon Sanders is a first-year student who loves hearing from readers. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.