Students in high school should recognize that “Doing something with your life” or “Being better than average” are not requirements to living happily. This attitude warps students’ definitions of success, leading to considerable stress and frustration as people struggle to be extraordinary and unique, or to pre-maturely determine a life path.
Many see high school as an in-between stage, a transition from the familiarity of childhood to the unmapped terrain of college and beyond – living away from home, shuffling more and more responsibilities before finally becoming the full-fledged adult. Most high school students stop thinking in detail about life after college – which is understandable, as the majority have little to no idea about what exactly they will do in college, let alone the rest of their lives. “By my twenties, I would have it figured out,” the student promises herself, unaware that between searching for jobs, understanding taxes, and scheduling doctor’s appointments personally, twenty-somethings rarely find time to feel content and satisfied.
The growing obsession with personal success in American culture is evident in the enormous amount of lists of the most influential people, the richest people, best actors, best athletes, and best singers we churn out every year. The atmosphere on Mercer Island especially cultivates the mindset that success and happiness only come after getting the highest grades or getting into the best colleges; apparently, four more years of higher education will lead to no regrets on the deathbed. In fact, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, only 55 percent of undergraduates who enrolled in college in 2008 finished a degree within six years, the rest dropped out before finishing. The majority of students who spend longer than six years in college also drop out. Parents too have high expectations, and the education system assigns numbers as measurement for achievement. Success becomes a prerequisite for happiness, and groups of diverse individuals all try to mold themselves to conform to the restrictive definition of success. Eventually, consciously or not, students learn to evaluate their happiness by external criteria; excellence becomes synonymous with well-being.
Students should not stress over life goals, nor should they be pressured to stress about them. Sophomore Sarah Crumrine said, “I feel like I put a pressure on myself, and other students and teachers put pressure [on me]. Like hearing students say, ‘Oh man, I’m so worried, I have an A- in this class’ makes me feel really weird, because I’m not really freaking out from a B+. Like I should be, because of what other students are saying”. While academic achievement is important, it should not cause someone to feel inferior because other people get into “better” schools. Decisions and predictions made in high school regarding the latter sixty-plus years rarely hold true, and labels important to high schoolers such as GPA become more and more arbitrary as they grow up. Obsessing over future success is detrimental to high schoolers’ mental health and impractical; therefore, students should experience happiness as a singular concept, not as an award for blind obedience to societal norms.
Thumbnail photo courtesy Voice of America