Overachiever: Life of the Type A student

Madina Seytmuradova

Variety Editor

Overachiever, workaholic, perfectionist — all these terms are used interchangeably in everyday conversations to describe people who are driven and competitive, but also stress-prone. During such a notoriously stressful time as midterms, Type A Trojans talk about how they manage to keep up the grades and the spirits.

Leah Lancaster, a senior English major from Enterprise with a standing 4.0 GPA, said she always had high standards for her work. Currently,  she has a job in retail, a spot in the Troy musical ensemble Frequencies and voice classes she teaches on the side.

“It’s very difficult for me to make a low grade because I know that I’m better than that, and I know that I can achieve high grades,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster said that she was home­schooled, and college was her first experience of public education. When her first test came back with a B, Lancaster said she “beat (herself) up” for it more than she now thinks was necessary.

“I remember one of my friends—from the way I was talking myself down about it—my friend thought I had actually failed the test,” Lancaster said.  “I told him I made an 88, and I remember he said, ‘I usually celebrate when I make 88.’ ”

Type A personalities tend to seek the best results in their academic, work and social lives.

“I like to go above and beyond in the workplace, and people I care about, I like to do things for them that aren’t a necessity or an obligation,” Lancaster said. “It’s just something I want to do.”

Another 4.0 senior, Shelby Wood, a Spanish and social science education double major from Wewahitchka, Florida, said that she thrives in task-driven and goal-oriented extracurricular activities.

“I’m automatically wanting to step into the leadership role, or I want to be a dependable follower in that,” Wood said.

Besides academic load, Wood leads International Student Cultural Organization (ISCO), volunteers, and participates in honor societies.

Although Type A’s are more driven, Type B students can be just as successful in college, according to Stephen Berry, assistant professor in the Division of Counseling, Rehabilitation and Interpreter Training.

“One is not better than the other,” Berry said. “It’s just how you manage it.”

Richard Sizelove, a junior math major from Alexandria, Indiana, said he doesn’t consider himself a Type A student. Although he too juggles several occupations in college, including work for the Student Government Association (SGA), Department of Mathematics and various community work, his attitude to results is more relaxed.

“If I get over a 90 percent in a class, I feel like I worked too hard,” Sizelove said. “Because an A is an A.”

Unlike most Type A individuals, Sizelove said he does not keep a planner, but prefers to remember the deadlines. Imperfect grades do not stress Type B students like Sizelove, but can take a toll on the Type A ones.

“There can be a flip side to Type A personality,” Wood said. “They tend to be controlling or aggressive almost, and stressed out, which is something I’ve been working out.”

The Type A and Type B theory, first proposed by a cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman in the late ’50s, linked the competitive, driven behavior characteristic of the Type A individuals with the higher chances of suffering from cardiac diseases. In the interview with P.J. Rosch for the article “Stress and Cardiovascular Disease Comprehensive Therapy,” Ray Rosenman described how their research in cholesterol metabolism, which influenced the cardiovascular health, has led to the conclusion that “their (patients’) cholesterol levels were unrelated to diet or weight.”

“The prevailing dogma, which still persists, was that coronary heart disease was due to an elevated cholesterol, which in turn resulted from increased dietary fat intake,” Roseman said in the interview to Rosch. “Our own and other data that Keys had ignored in reaching his conclusions did not support this and reinforced our belief that socioeconomic influences played a more important role in the increased incidence of coronary disease as well as gender differences.”

According to Roseman, males were more prone to stress than females, and were fidgety, punctual and impatient patients who, as described by their secretary, “preferred to sit in hard-upholstered chairs rather than softer ones or sofas,” “looked at their watches frequently and acted impatient when they had to wait, usually sat on the edges of waiting room chairs and tended to leap up when called to be examined.”

Lancaster said that her drive did put her in the hospital in her junior year when her full load of classes was topped by daily four-hour commutes between three cities and three four-hour rehearsals a week.

“That was the closest I have ever come to losing my 4.0,” Lancaster said. “I had run down myself so much and ended up being sick. But thankfully I had a professor who knew my quality of work and that the final paper I turned in was bad because I had written it in the hospital.”

Berry agreed that extreme cases of Type A behavior can create problems for students.

“When achievement becomes the basis of your self-esteem, I think you lose connection with who you really are because we’re not just what we achieve,” Berry said. “We are human beings; we have things aside from what we accomplish.”

Wood said that, being a Type A student, she used to emphasize on the academic achievement but has learned to value other aspects of life and schedule regular relaxation time.

“I schedule everything,” Wood said. “Literally, from 3 to 4 I’ll do homework, from 4 to 5 I’ll do free time.”

“It makes me feel more comfortable knowing that during that free time I can truly not worry about doing something because I know I scheduled to do it later so I can just really focus on being in that moment.”

Wood recommended anyone who is overwhelmed or even slightly stressed, whether Type A or B, to visit a counselling center.

“I know that I’ve been there, I talked to the counselor and I find that it’s great just to be able to go to someone, talk to them, kind of vent about my problems and my stress and they can give you some coping techniques,” Wood said.

Type A students tend to plan and Type B students, as Sizelove put it, “wing it.”

Wood said her suggestion for staying on top of the workload is to jot down all the deadlines in a planner in the beginning of the year to follow, as well as daily to-do lists.

“Even I’m still trying to figure out what works for me,” Wood said. “Sometimes I’ll just do a list of tasks, sometimes I’ll do it like ‘OK, at 7 p.m. I need to do this; 8 p.m. I need to do this.’ ”

Type B students might benefit from allotting free time during which they can do work.

“If you are somebody who procrastinates like me, it’s very, very difficult to schedule something,” Sizelove said. “I can’t say, ‘I’m gonna sit down and work on this for an hour every day until it’s done.’ It doesn’t work like that. But you know, if I sit there and have free time, it’s easy for me to say, ‘I’m gonna work on that ‘till my next class starts.’ ”

During midterms, even Type A students get overwhelmed, and they have their tried strategies of dealing with stress.

“I think we all have those moments, and I guess there are different ways to deal with that for every person,” Woods said. “I find that it’s good—even if it’s just for 30 seconds, couple of minutes just to sit there, take a few breaths, relax, and then you come back to it with a clear mind.”

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