As teenagers of this generation, we are told time and time again how grateful we should be to have the privileges of attending school and getting an education. This is simply the truth, but despite this undeniable fact, nobody ever hears the other side of the story. Nobody ever hears how much pressure it is or how overwhelming it can be to succeed in this world, where every word that leaves your lips is graded on a scale of one to a hundred. We all ignore talking about this crushing pressure because to speak of it is to be perceived as ungrateful or spoiled. Somebody always has it worse, therefore, making our juvenile struggles insignificant. Because of this, people expect us to surpass these insignificant struggles and be our best even if it is emotionally draining us. This has led me to wonder if the late nights and crushing feeling on my chest is worth the extra five points that it takes to go from a ninety-five to a hundred. After years of believing that if being my best included exhaustion, stress and pressure, it was worth it, I finally came to the conclusion that quality of life is more important than being a machine that works until one day it doesn't—until one day it breaks.
From experience, I know that it may only take a half an hour of studying to move from an 85 to a 90, but as you get higher up, each point takes so much more to earn. In my younger years, I truly believed it was worth what it put me through. I was about ten when I started feeling the pressure to succeed. People started to expect more of me, and I felt the overwhelming feeling that if I didn’t deliver, I would be letting the entire world down. I spent a lot of my time hunched over a book or notes, fighting to get more points when I was really still a child.
As a matter of fact, throughout elementary school, I constructed picture perfect schedules on flashcards that included what needed to be achieved and specific times it was necessary for the task to be completed. One weekend before a science test, I failed to follow my schedule because I had chosen to spend the weekend with my best friend, one of the only people who could bring me back to a place where stuffed animals came to life and Disney movies were a reality. Sadly, the moments with her were few and always ended too early. The day before the test, I clearly remember crying until I was gasping for air as I regretted spending my weekend carefree. I sat in my closet with my frame shaking and eyes redder and puffier than one could imagine. My mom had no idea how to fix me, so we just sat there for an hour or two, surrounded by the stuffed animals that no longer seemed to come to life as I stained her shirt with tears and wondered how I was ever going to move on.
This was the perfect example of how bad it got?how fast I deteriorated. I had gotten to the point where I was convinced that a single test grade would alter my entire foreseeable future.I may have only been in elementary school, but I was already extremely unhappy because of the expectations that I had placed upon myself. I thought the sacrifice was worth it. I now regret this more than ever. As I look back, I see that the difference between an A- and an A in fifth grade science doesn’t matter, but having memories of a childhood full of fantasies and wonder does.
Stress means to strain or create tension. As I moved on to middle school, I painfully gained an understanding of the word stress. Teachers talked about how sixth grade was the beginning of our future. From that moment on, my “perfect” future depended on every present moment, and I was willing to suffer through the present until I could reach my utopian vision of the future. The only problem with that was the fact that every moment was the present. Every tiny action and every word choice was a piece of the present that my future relied on. The stress from this became a part of me, and I fully comprehended why stress meant strain or tension because I physically experienced it all throughout that year. I felt trapped, and every single part of my body was under such an intense amount of strain from attempting to hold the weight of my future, that I wanted to collapse. What nobody told me was a future does not depend solely on a grade or a number. A person’s future also relies on a person’s character and the ability to enjoy life. While the extreme path I was on would have helped me succeed, it wasn’t going to make me happy. Success means nothing when serenity eludes you, and money is worthless when the things you need such as happiness, cannot be bought.
Although my mom was the one to hold me while I cried, my father showed me proof of my realization of happiness and how worthless success was without it. I had always imagined myself with a career like my father. He was and still is the epitome of hard work. I saw how much he provided for my family and I, and I desperately wanted to be able to accomplish that. I thought I could achieve it by continuing on my path of strain and tension. Then I looked closer. I saw that while he was able to give me an amazing life, it took a toll on him. I saw the stress that his job brought upon him, contrasted by the happiness in his face when he spent time with family. He showed me how the happiness he felt when he was carefree and with his family outweighed his career successes. I realized that by continuing to be a rigid, strained person, I might be able to have had similar successes, but I would not have been able to achieve the more valuable, carefree sense of of happiness. That year I realized how pointless all the work and strain I put on myself would be if in the future, I did not know how to be content with both life and myself.
As I grew older, I continued to struggle, but I eventually made peace with myself. There were still some days, where the stress overwhelmed me, but as middle school progressed, and as I made friends who encouraged my happiness, those moments of extreme internal pressure grew fewer and fewer. The one moment I can still remember clear as day was the last day of my seventh grade year when one of my closest friends wrote in my yearbook, “You are so funny, kind and just fun to be around.” While this may have seemed insignificant, it greatly impacted my life. Before this, I was always called out on being hardworking or that I “strive to succeed.” Sure, I liked these compliments, and they were always meant in a positive sense, but it meant so much more when people saw me as more than my intelligence; they saw me as a person.
Today, I am not perfect nor will I ever be, but I’ve found a balance between my work ethic and my quality of life. I no longer break over one bad grade, and when stress gets its paralyzing grasp on me, I remind myself why I am done trying to be a machine. I was not made to spit out answers or to achieve perfection. I was made to be human, and being human is one of the greatest gifts that I’ll ever receive.It allows me to experience the highest of highs and to simply enjoy life. I’d be a fool to throw these privileges of happiness and love away because of my fear of a number. While my struggle with internal and external pressure and stress, was draining to experience, I am now a stronger person and I have come to realize I’ve only got one life, and spending it being something I’m not such as a machine would be a terrible waste.