The Numbers Game: my unhealthy fixation with my GPA


Yesterday I took a final exam which, at my school, potentially happens every 3.5 weeks. I was running on a 2hr nap and a very shaky understanding of what the last week and half was even about: a bad combination to say the least. As I received the exam I read the short answer questions, I read the essay prompts, and I realized I was doomed. I looked at the clock, I looked at my peers, and I accepted that this was in fact reality and, much to my dismay, no one was coming to save me from this treacherous fate. 2hrs later I begrudgingly turned in my exam: praying that I had circled the right things and that my professor would be more than generous with the free response points. And as I walked away from college hall, I couldn’t help but feel like a failure. Like I didn’t even belong here and that, despite all my hard work, I was average.

One thing I pride myself in is being sane enough to know when I’m being insane. And this was one of those times. I was overreacting. I like to tell myself that I don’t care about grades, that I am content as long as I try my best–but it’s a lie. Trying my best only assuages some of the guilt I feel. The bottom line is I want the A. And I’m not completely satisfied with myself unless I get it. So in the midst of my Type A meltdown I called my brother and released all my frustration, sadness, anger, and guilt onto him.

My brother is a lot like myself, caring just as much about his grades (if not more). And obsessing over outcomes & our abilities to thrive in our prospective careers: English teacher and jazz musician/instructor. But even my empathetic brother agreed that I needed to chill out.

This year has definitely been a struggle for me. But its times like these where I stop and remind myself that tackling challenges means I won’t always come out on top. I have to let go of the mindset that receiving anything less than an A means I’m slacking because that’s just not true. As I spoke to my brother about these frustrations he brought up a similar conversation that he heard on archispeak (a podcast about architecture) that said: “we tend to think if we’re not building ourselves 24/7 that means we don’t care enough. Architecture is a big part of who you are but it’s not all you are”. This quote really resonated with me because while I’m an undergrad student, trying to set myself up for a successful career as an educator, I am so many other things. And in the grand scheme of things, what I got in an introductory anthropology class isn’t going to define me. But how I deal with what I get in this intro anthropology class might.

What matters most is not my shortcomings: rather, it’s the ability to deal with them in a positive way, learn from them, and move on.


2 thoughts on “The Numbers Game: my unhealthy fixation with my GPA

  1. About how many other students at Cornell College would also admit to their type A personality of their unhealthy fixation with grades? Do you feel as though the college environment slightly fosters this, or is it just your personality?

    • I don’t my college fosters it. Many of my professors open the course explaining how hard it is to get an “A” rather than an A- or B+. And I’ve been told many times by profs that we should try our best but understand that B’s and C’s are just part of the undergrad package. But I think college is a competitive environment and with our +,- system it makes it even harder.

      I’d say it’s my personality/my upbringing that gives me this mindset. I’m sure many people are fine with a much lower GPA than I am. My older brother is exactly the same: we expect A work from ourselves and from each other. I’m a competitive person and am always pushing myself to do better (even when I do scrape by with an “A”). I don’t think its necessarily a bad thing either: I just have to learn to use it to my advantage, rather than let it be my downfall.

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