I currently live in, arguably, the biggest achiever-mindset environment in the nation: Georgetown University in Washington D.C. As an Enneagram 3, you’d think this climate would be comforting. Finally, people who understand my obsession with the Oxford Comma! You’d think I’d feel encouraged by the energy in the air, the need to succeed, and the late-night study culture. And everyone is wearing my favorite outfit: blazers! After feeling so isolated in high school, sometimes even embarrassed, you’d think I’d feel affirmed.
But in an atmosphere of achievement where my peers seem to be crippled under the storm of anxiety, this semester I found myself in a small pasture of peace.
Under my feet, there’s green grass. I stand in a column of sun in the middle of a hurricane.
For months, I basked in this serenity and praised God for peace that surpassed understanding. I took time to Sabbath, I enjoyed creative writing on Sundays, I slept eight hours each night. I considered taking one less class next semester to prioritize people, projects, and more rest. What had I done to deserve this? Where was the stress inherent to all students during midterms? Where were my late nights and mental breakdowns? As the peace didn’t falter, I wondered how long this could last, and then…
The soft voice of evil murmured into my ear: You’re being lazy. Look at what everyone else is doing.
My roommate was sacrificing sleep in order to conquer three papers at once. My friend was leading two clubs, participating in three Bible Studies, and serving at church. My other friend was considering six classes next semester instead of five. And in the midst of it all, where was I? Sleeping?
Is your family paying for this education for you to relax every night and Sabbath every week?
Old lies slithered into my thoughts, all picking at too-recent scabs. I knew I was mentally healthier than ever before, but what did everyone else think? Most of all, what did my parents think? Here I was, planning for fewer classes than average, while every other Georgetown student was pushing harder, working faster, and studying longer than before.
No, I did not feel affirmed in this achiever-mindset environment; I felt inadequate.
When the voice of evil speaks, it’s easy to listen. But that voice was not the only one speaking. Another emerged: Dearest Ella, I didn’t put you here to look like the world.
I pressed in. Look like the world? What did that even mean? Slowly, I began to understand: Achievement for achievement’s sake, laboring until burnout, and neglecting mental health is not Christ-like work. Prioritizing product over process is what the world craves, but it dismisses the growth, the relationships, and the joy that God can work in along the way.
I still feel the faint pangs of inadequacy, but I’m going to try not to let go of this small pasture of green grass and sun.
Ella Bruno is a Georgetown University student studying Justice and Peace in Washington D.C. Fueled by a passion for people, she hopes to make systemic change in global social justice issues. When she’s not cramming for exams, she enjoys writing her young adult science fiction novel with a cup of steaming hot chocolate by her side.