An A+ Doesn’t Define You
June 25, 2020
As a current student earning an Entry-Level Master’s Degree, many people find it easy to assume things about me before getting to know me. These may include that I am very smart, that I love to study, that school is easy for me, and that I am a master of maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. I understand why these are common assumptions since I decided to voluntarily enroll in at least six more years of school after graduating from high school. Although I appreciate that these assumptions are positive, I continuously feel an immense amount of pressure to live up to them every day. Whether that be by taking two extra hours to study instead of sleep, reading over an article more than once to ensure that I have not missed anything for a class discussion, or over-committing myself to various research and other academic pursuits, I make sure that I fulfill the expectations I feel society has placed on me as a graduate student. I spent all of high school and college continuously pushing myself to get the best grades possible and to take on a variety of leadership roles and extracurricular pursuits while acting as though I was never overwhelmed. I convinced myself that being perfect was the only way I could achieve my dream of getting into USC’s occupational therapy master’s program. Now I made it . . . phew! I got into my dream program, and I am pursuing a career that I am extremely passionate about.
You would think that I would allow myself to take a deep breath and relax right? Unfortunately, that was not the case. As I entered into my first summer I hit the ground running. I spent all day and night studying to make sure that I would maintain good grades. I was tired. I had graduated from college a few days before moving to LA to start at USC, and I pretended like I was not exhausted every day. Everyone around me seemed so driven, smart, accomplished, and motivated. I told myself that everyone was an “A+” student and that I had to be one too. As the summer semester ended and the official school year began, I was worried that my energy had depleted so much that I would not be able to make it through the semester. This was the first time I had to ask myself if I had made a mistake choosing to pursue this career. Was I cut out to be an OT? Was I smart enough? Would I fall behind my peers? Could I keep up with the curriculum?
These doubts overwhelmed me until I confided in a professor for advice. In this meeting, I was taught some of the most important lessons that have helped me not only get through but also enjoy my first year of OT school. Here is what I have learned:
- You have been admitted into this program for a reason. You worked hard to get here, and you deserve to be here. A team of skilled OTs decided that you were well equipped to become an amazing OT, so remind yourself that you deserve to be here with everyone else.
- Your skills speak volumes and your grades do not. The wonderful grades you received in your undergraduate career allowed you to be admitted to this program but now you must focus on the learning process, not the end result. You are here to learn and harness the skills to become a great OT.
- You are going to be a graduate of the top occupational therapy educational program in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report, and you will become a licensed OT after you pass the NBCOT exam. The deciding factor for whether you will get hired over another candidate is your ability to be personable, your experience in the field, and the skills you are equipped with. Focus on what you can learn in the field, from your peers, from your faculty, and from your mentors. These will be your colleagues for life so spend more time learning from them than focusing on getting the perfect letter grade.
- It is OK to not get an A. It is engrained in you that grades are what measure your level of success since it is a big part of what got you to where you are today. You made it here, so now you can breathe and just focus on passing and learning all that you can.
- Have fun because this is the first time you have the chance to immerse yourself in classes focused on your passion! You are surrounded by people that share the same enthusiasm for OT as you so appreciate this unique and special opportunity.
So friends and colleagues . . . it’s OK to not be perfect. Continue to remind yourself that you deserve to be here. Getting a perfect letter grade will not make or break your career so breathe and enjoy the ride. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. YOU made it.