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Failing forward 

Being in a high-pressure university setting exacerbates mental health problems.  

One in five people will experience a mental health problem or illness each year according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15 to 24 year-olds. 

We’re regularly evaluated based on our GPA.  

A 3.7 GPA is the magic number that gives a competitive advantage to get admitted to grad schools, win prestigious scholarships, graduate with Honoith Honours and much more.  

No wonder there’s so much pressure and anxiety. Grad schools do consider things like job experience, personal statement, extracurricular activities, and reference letters; but GPA is still one of the most important considerations.  

We fall prey to the adage, “get good grades, do a bunch of extracurricular activities, network, and you’ll likely land a decent job after you graduate.”  

It’s true. That will increase your chances of securing a good job after graduation.  

But what about the steady decline of students’ mental health?  

A survey conducted by the Canadian Organization of University and College health in 2013 concluded that 90 per cent of students felt overwhelmed about what they had to do in the past year, shows no sign of decreasing.  

At what point do we say, “Enough is enough?”  

Yes, we should strive to get the best possible grades, but we should never let our self-worth be defined by our GPA. Being in a university setting is like swimming against a current – swimming hard – never getting ahead.  

Sometimes we’re not going to get A’s no matter how hard we try. Courses are tough. We might not click with the subject matter. 

That’s perfectly okay.  

Don’t feel pressured to join a million campus clubs to make your CV look hella impressive. Join the clubs that genuinely interest you. Don’t feel pressured to join the rest. Remember to make quality time for you so that your mental health doesn’t suffer. 

It may seem that getting the perfect grades and being a well-rounded student will make you a shoo-in for grad schools and coveted jobs, but that’s not always the case. You can still get awesome jobs and get into grad schools without the 4.0 or a boatload of extracurricular activities. Grad schools read your personal statement, which is an excellent opportunity to explain why you may not meet the minimum.  

So do not fret! 

In September 2017, I was short-listed for an interview for the Rhodes Scholarship with the Dalhousie committee. After the interview, I received a letter from the committee notifying me that I didn’t advance to the regional round of the competition.  

It was the greatest defeat I’ve experienced to date. I agonized for months about everything that I could have done differently to be a better candidate.  

I thought I was such a failure because I didn’t do enough to secure a $100k scholarship to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. I began to obsess over my grades and extracurricular activities. It was extremely unhealthy. It lead to numerous anxiety attacks.  

Thanks to my wonderful counsellor at Dal and many sessions later, I’ve learned to let go and perceive my failure not as a failure; but rather, as a wonderful learning opportunity.  

For the first two months after the interview, I was so scared of failing that I couldn’t bring myself to apply for scholarships and grad schools. After I accepted my failure as a learning experience, I was able to move on with my life and apply for scholarships and grad schools. 

The lesson is: don’t let your self-worth be determined by your GPA or how many clubs you’ve chaired.  

You are a friend, a sister, a brother, a mentor, a son, a daughter, an ally – you are amazing. One of my all-time favourite quotes is by Sir Winston Churchill: 

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”  

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