Knowing that high school is only a pit stop in our lives, albeit an important one, should make it easy to not let the pressure of being a good student get to many of us the way it does. After all, in 15 years who’s going to ask you what you got on the limits test for AP Calculus? A bad essay grade freshman year isn’t going to haunt you for the rest of your life and a minimum SAT score hopefully won’t be a requirement for a relationship. The odds are that no one is going to care who you were as a teenager.
The problem is that even though we can logically conclude that these things won’t matter in the long run, for those of us who are too aware of what a bad grade or score can mean, it’s difficult to feel that truth. As we all know, teenagers aren’t exactly known for their big-picture thinking. These things matter to us in the heat of the moment and the competitive, Successful with a capital S environment we live in only further inflames those valid feelings. If we don’t get an SAT score above some arbitrary number, we failed. If we aren’t in at least three AP classes each, we failed. If we don’t go to a four-year college, we failed. But that’s just not right.
These accomplishments are great for those who achieve them but, realistically, not everybody can be that person. Getting below your dream school’s average SAT isn’t indicative of your self-worth (or your college preparedness, but that’s a topic for another day). AP classes end up being like sprinkles on cupcakes—nice but unnecessary. And for some people, community college is the way to go and that’s great. There are even some teachers here who can tell you stories about them not doing so great in school but figuring out life later, which is just as great as someone who knew what they wanted to do since the age of 12 because what matters is that we get to destinations we’re happy with.
I’m not saying that the ultimately trivial aspects of typical forms of success are an excuse for you to blow off your homework or fail that test. It’s not an excuse for not trying. What this is is reassurance. You don’t have to be the mythical straight A student to be a good student. You just have to be someone who can be proud of what you’ve done, however much that is. You get to decide what’s important.