Somewhere along the way we have created this “equation” of what a good student is: an x amount of AP classes, clubs, leadership positions, sports, service hours, added to a certain GPA = success. So, like many freshmen, I signed up for three clubs, two sports teams, the biotech academy, seven classes, and the expectation that anything less than a 4.0 meant I was a failure. What this really meant is that I set myself up for a high school career of chronic stress and unhappiness.
Freshman and sophomore year I would be at school from 8am until 8pm with another three hours of work to do once I got home. Accustomed to five hours of sleep a night, barely enough food to get by, and the determination to be perceived as perfect, I let my sanity be controlled by what I thought my life should be instead of what actually brought me joy.
manifest physically. I was having stomach pains so bad I could not eat or stand up straight, and would get by by eating Tums like candy. I watched as my friends with this same mindset developed stress hives and headaches, panic attacks, eye twitches, and began pulling their own hair out. We all acted like these were the necessary sacrifices to get into the colleges we wanted, to make our parents proud, or even to prove we were smart.
I know I am preaching to the choir. We are a student body of sleep deprived teenagers who are just trying our best; but we need to understand that no college or class is more important than our mental and physical health. Do not ignore the alarm bells that are trying to tell you if you are being overworked, because they are there for a reason. You may be trying to tell yourself that you do genuinely enjoy doing all of the things you are in. Can you really say that everything you are doing brings you more joy than the pain, the stress of doing it causes you? I know I would laugh, even a year ago at the idea of taking a step back, but this mindset of embracing the ultimate sacrifices is going to lead us to our demise.
With the idea of following this “equation” still ingrained in me, I was enrolling in classes I didn’t want to be in or taking APs of subjects I did not care about and struggling. I was left feeling like a failure because I was not passing tests in subjects I had no interest in pursuing. Every test, every assignment, every class period was life or death. We have been taught that every single choice we make will affect whether we get into college or not: if my Instagram account is private, if I turned in an assignment late, if I wasn’t a starting player. Yet, when filling out my college applications and realizing I have about four months left at San Marin, I regret it all. I wish I could go back in time and make the choices that would make me happy.
At the end of the day, this choice is yours. Everyone has opinions, everyone thinks they know what is right for you, or what you can handle but only you know that answer. One month into freshman year, I went to my counselor to figure out how I could drop Biotech. I dreaded going to the class every day, would have to put in twice the amount of effort to get worse grades than my friends, and I wanted out. I explained to my counselor how I did not think I would do well, how I did not want to go into Biotech, and that I had made a four year commitment I did not think through. Despite this my counselor encouraged me to stay in the class. and against my better judgement, I trusted that I could get through it, and that I would do well. I didn’t.
We need to stop idolizing the “perfect student” because no one is happy doing it all. As it is the season for signing up for classes or applying for internships, I urge you to the question: “is this what you really want?” Because in the end, high school is only four years, no matter how long or short it feels, you get four chances to choose your own happiness and passions. Take classes that interest you, and if you can’t find any, talk to your counselor to find a path you want to go on. Take it from the Mock Trial Defense Captain, Speech and Debate co-president, Interact club co-President, co-Editor-in-Chief, and Varsity lacrosse player. No college is worth the pain of spending four years of high school making choices to please an admissions officer.