For as long as I can remember I have always sought achievement over everything else. In my early years at school I judged myself by comparing which colour books of the reading scheme I was on compared to my peers. When I was a Brownie I constantly planned on which badges I was going to work on next. I set myself impossible goals and then berated myself when I couldn’t achieve them. Setting these goals would often lead me to procrastinate in starting new tasks for fear of failure.
Academically I have been very successful. I have a 2:1 Bachelor of Science honours degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology and a Master of Science degree with distinction in Computer Science. This should be enough to prove to myself that I’m what – worthwhile? I honestly don’t know what it is. What I do know is that I’ve been trying to prove ‘whatever it is’ to myself my whole life and it has become detrimental to my wellbeing and it has to stop.
In July 2020 I set myself the goal of taking my ABRSM Grade 5 piano exam. I worked really hard, did all the preparation and really enjoyed the challenge. However it took over my life and I haven’t thought of anything else for six months. I took the exam yesterday and the stress caused me to have a memory block in the middle of one of my pieces. Fortunately the examiner was very kind and encouraging and I managed to complete the piece. The rest of the exam went reasonably ok and I’m fairly sure I’ve passed. For a couple of hours after the exam I was beating myself up as my goal was to get a distinction. Once I’d calmed down and really started to think about it, one thought kept coming back to me over and over again, “What the f@*k am I doing to myself?”.
I’m sure that striving for achievement was one of the factors that led to me developing fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Over the last few years I have made great strides in regaining some function and if I don’t stop putting myself in these stressful situations I could jeopardise this.
In short, I’m done with trying to prove whatever it is to myself. No more practical music exams, no more impossible goals, no more strict deadlines and most of all no more self-imposed stress. It’s time for me to enjoy what I have achieved in my life and be content with that. I’m going to learn piano pieces that I love rather than what’s on a syllabus. I have a very happy marriage and two gorgeous, well-adjusted grown-up children of whom I’m extremely proud. It will take some time to adjust my thinking but once done my life will be all the richer for it!
Edit: Exam passed!