University is a time for learning new things. By the time you leave you’ll (hopefully) be able to make nutritionally passable food, complete group projects without stabbing anyone, and compose the perfect passive aggressive group chat message about washing up. But, arguably apart from the content of your degree, the most important thing you will learn is that it’s okay to be average.
You’re probably used to being top of the class – that’s how you got here in the first place. But that’s how everyone else got here, too, so the chances are that in your class of one or two hundred, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the middle. You’ve probably been warned about this already. When I was a fresher, I was warned of it, too – yet I still made myself ill for weeks in first term by discarding sleep in favour of working on my first coursework project, determined to impress. That one good mark wasn’t even remotely worth the several emotional meltdowns, completely destroyed immune system, and couple of existential crises it took to achieve it. It seemed that fully accepting that I could no longer get >90% in everything was much easier said than done.
So how can you really, honestly come to terms with being average? It’s basically a case of ‘practice makes perfect’.
I’m not suggesting that you deliberately do badly, but if you find yourself spending every waking moment either doing work or stressing about doing work, it might be time to calm down a little bit. For me, the turning point came when I started playing rugby. I’ve never been good at sports, and my first training was terrifying: everyone was faster and stronger than me, I didn’t know any of the rules, and when I played my first game, I missed every tackle, didn’t score, and we lost 5-99. But instead of being dismayed at this abject failure, I felt relieved. I’d performed badly, but nothing awful had happened as a result. I’ve been playing for two years now and I’m still not that good, but that’s one of the things I enjoy so much about it, because I’m not putting huge and unnecessary amounts of pressure on myself to do amazingly – something I’ve learned to apply to all areas of my life.
By all means, push yourself to do the best that you can, but try not to obsess over being the best all the time – all it will do is stress you out. Join a society to do something you’ve never done before, write mediocre poems, or start drawing pictures of that plant your mum gave you – anything that will help you get used to being just ‘ok’ at something – and you’ll be happier for it.