For those of you who are here strictly for the writing tidbits, I promise they’re in this post. Don’t let the first part fool you.
Saying that you’re an overachiever often feels a bit like a humble brag.
Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s honestly a problem. It’s a crippling desire to succeed, at the expense of all that is good in the world.
My name is Melanie Rio, and I’m an overachiever.
Personally I sort of blame my parents for instilling in me the desire for perfection from a very young age. Once upon a time when I was in fifth grade, I told my mother I got a 95% on a test. I was pretty pleased with that until she said, “Well, maybe if you had studied it would have been a hundred.”
Before you judge my mom (whom I love dearly) too harshly, let me say this: She was right. I rarely, if ever, studied for anything until I got to college. I’m fortunate in that I retain information very well and am generally a good test-taker and essay writer – which meant that I floated through elementary and middle school without having to try very hard (except in math. Dear Lord, mathematics ate my soul). My mother saw no reason to settle for a 95% if I could try a little harder and land a hundred – I think it irked her that I didn’t, and rightfully so.
In high school the desperate overachiever began to emerge, because education suddenly mattered. How you perform in high school determines where you go to college, which determines where you to go grad school, and how successful you’re bound to be later in life. At least, that’s how I perceived it. I took every AP and Honors class I could get into, took a few additional ones online, was a teaching cadet (our version of a TA), was on the board of directors for a non-profit theatre company, wrote and directed my own show and took the SAT while I had the flu. All in the name of being accepted to the only university that had become, for me, synonymous with academic success (it was Boston College if anybody’s wondering; I did get in but I didn’t end up there, because oh hey, $54,000 a year is A BOATLOAD OF MONEY). And now that I’m three years through my college education (holy crap, when did that happen?) I’m beginning to realize that being an overachiever may do more harm than good.
What brought this on?
Well, yesterday I was supposed to register for classes for my next semester at UNC. This process is notoriously difficult and almost nobody gets everything (or sometimes anything) they need on the first go. A few forward-thinking students have even invented a drinking game where you do a shot every time Connect Carolina crashes.
I had the perfect schedule all picked out an arranged. Five minutes before registration, all the classes I wanted were still open, and I was feeling pretty good.
T-minus thirty seconds to registration, they changed the time of the class my whole schedule was hinging on and all hell broke loose.
I spent the next hour and a half frantically scouring the Carolina website for other classes that could fill the suddenly enormous gap in my schedule for next semester. If this seems over-dramatic, it really wasn’t.
Here’s why: Yesterday I figured out that in order to fulfill of my requirements before graduation, I have to take twelve different classes in two semesters or less.
This is what happens when you have two demanding majors, a freakishly specific minor, and got Shanghaied into the honors program your freshman year.
Basically, academic death.
I’m currently having to apply to the dean for permission to enroll in more than the permissible number of classes so I don’t crash and burn next year.
This is a really long way of explaining that sometimes overachieving SUCKS.
Here’s where the writing part comes in.
If you’ve spent any time on the NaNo Facebook forum, you might have noticed that there are people WHO HAVE ALREADY FINISHED THEIR NOVELS. It’s day nine.
These people, though they probably don’t mean to, can pretty easily make everyone else feel like being on track isn’t quite good enough (this is also what the American education system does; if you don’t graduate high school with at least five college-level classes under your belt, you’re considered sort of sub-par. How messed up is that?).
Don’t get me wrong, having a cushion is nice. Once I’ve met the arbitrary 1,667 word quota for the day, I don’t just stop if I’m on a roll. I keep going until I get to a place where it feels natural to stop. So instead of the minimum 15,000 words required for today, I’m sitting on about 26,000.
Should that make you feel bad if you’re just over 15K, or even a little behind?
Listen up, children:
You’re a champ for even tackling this crazy thing called NaNoWriMo: you’re writing, you’re getting words on paper, so who cares what everybody else is doing?
It’s also good to bear in mind that quantity is no indication of quality – in fact, more often than not, the two have an inverse relationship. So don’t let somebody else’s staggering (and possibly exaggerated) numbers knock you off your high horse.
Being able to write a lot in a short space of time doesn’t prove anything – except that you have a lot of free time. So don’t let the overachievers get you down. Chances are, they’re losing sleep and pulling their hair out because they bit off more than they can chew.
Trust me. I speak from experience.
So keep trucking, and ignore everyone else’s wordcount. It’s not a race. You worry about you.
Keep up the good work.