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After experiencing the after-exam routine for the past few years, I always seem to find that around this time of year, I become really self-critical. I think to myself: if I worked just a bit harder in February, I could have had an A+ in my French class or if I had visited my professor’s office hours more often she could have given me final exam tips.

All these thoughts make me feel so guilty for not achieving the high, and sometimes impossible, standard I set for myself. A friend once told me that people feel shame when we connect our own personal failures, or what we perceive to be failures, to our self-worth. She suggested that I write down whenever I have a self-critical thought and try to come up with a compassionate alternative for it; an explanation I would empathetically give a friend or loved one if they told me they felt the same thing. After all, we need to realize that we, ourselves, are loved, that require and deserve self-love.

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When I have these thoughts that diminish my self-worth, esteem, and confidence, she told me to think about I think I’ll feel about the whole situation ten years from now.  How I may be skewing the importance of this one event or mark, or if I’m blaming myself for something that I have no control over. A lot of times, I think students blame ourselves for “bad” marks and start believing that we may not be as smart as we think we are or that we aren’t meant for higher education. But in trying to find self-compassion, I start to tell myself that one mark does not define my future but most importantly, it does not define me. It’s so important to take responsibility for what you could have done better — perhaps doing your readings more frequently or studying far in advance — but you have to learn to find compassion for yourself by understanding when the guilt or shame is not justified.

I’ve learned that I can’t be Superwoman all the time – and that’s okay!

Sometimes, I just can’t give the proper amount of time to one assignment in a certain class because I have four other assignments due that week, a family and a social life, extra-curricular activities and I need to recharge and rest so I can get up the next day and do it all over! It’s so important to not punish ourselves for being a little overwhelmed sometimes. University is definitely overwhelming and coupled with our growing independence and developing personalities and interests, our late teens and early 20’s are a difficult time for ANYONE so please don’t feel ashamed when you disappoint yourself once.

Get back up again with compassion and empathy for yourself, display the same for other people who support you, and set realistic goals — including goals to help you relax and cope with stress better — so you can learn to appreciate your efforts later on. Only when we can see the intrinsic value in our efforts and in our motivation to succeed can we truly appreciate when we do finally reach our goals.

StrengthIN is a University of Toronto club that empowers high school and middle school students by teaching them how to take care of their mental health. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram @strengthinuoft.