Screw Perfection: A Message to Teenagers Going Through High School


The Galleon

“To stand out amongst an increasingly competitive applicant pool, students must have the highest grades, be the captain of every sports team and club, have a job, do community service, and yet not be a cookie-cutter college applicant.”

What does it mean to be exceptional? What should I do to stand out positively? As a teenager going through the college application process, I have heard many peers ask themselves these questions. Receiving an acceptance from a prestigious college has become an overwhelming source of stress for high schoolers. From a young age, students are told to be the best at everything in order to be an ideal college candidate: but is that the best version of ourselves? 

The idea of being perfect has become hammered into our heads. To stand out amongst an increasingly competitive applicant pool, we must have the highest grades, be the captain of every sports team and club, have a job, do community service, and yet not be a cookie-cutter college applicant. If we accomplish these goals, we achieve “success” in the eyes of many, but when did success start to entail losing our balance in life? Achieving this version of success can be detrimental to certain aspects of our lives, such as our social and emotional health.When it comes to the college application process, our generation focuses on a set of goals that have been determined by others, when we should be focusing on our own meaning of the word “success.”

Doing what you need to develop yourself may not match up with criteria that would give you candidacy for a college; however, you can make your own choices and do what is right for you. You may not choose what others believe will make you successful, but you can choose not to let these outside influences deter you. Some may find that focusing on their academics allows them to grow intellectually, but many flourish in other fields that enable them to better contribute to the world. One of my closest friends is less academically gifted, but she is incredibly artistically talented. We each have different gifts and fields of interest to excel in, so why limit ourselves to specific categories such as grades? Additionally, the ways we better ourselves naturally differ. Some may need extra time for relaxation and social interactions in order to maintain their mental health. Taking the time to enjoy your life will help you replenish your energy to excel in your ideal field and grow in various ways. Although others only emphasize certain aspects of life that help students meet their maximum potential, success is more individualized. 

It may be challenging to take a step back from what others have dictated will help you achieve greatness, but I believe I have changed my life for the better in doing so. I began ninth grade scouring the list of courses for the most highly leveled classes I could find. I had thought since these classes were the most difficult, they would make me the most successful. I spent every afternoon behind my textbook, and when that was not enough, I studied into the night. Like many of my peers, I was getting four hours of sleep, had little to no social life, but at least I had my grades; however, the more I talked to others, the more my mindset began to shift. I realized that I should be setting my priorities based on what I believed brought value to my life. Although my schoolwork was important, I needed social relationships to have a more balanced, healthy lifestyle. I met new people through high school sports that lured me out of my study-hole and into an unknown, community-based world. I formed relationships that brought meaning and joy into my life. Through my experiences with others, I realized there was more to learn than what I could read in a book. 

Focusing on aspects of my life other than bettering my grades allowed me to expand in ways I had not previously considered. I now better understand how others think and differ from myself. Speaking with those from different backgrounds has allowed me to expand my viewpoints. Peers on the other end of the political spectrum, for example, have allowed me to see subjects in different lights. Through conversations with these peers, I feel as though I have a more well-rounded understanding of various issues and more respect for those whose opinions differ from mine.  Additionally, exposure to perspectives I had not previously considered have allowed me to better myself. For example, a friend once informed me that certain ways I expressed myself could lead to negative impressions about my values. As it is more difficult for me to have insight into how others view me, this comment was helpful. I have now adapted the way I come across. Without this outside perspective, I likely would not have been able to develop myself in this way. Additionally, I have learned social etiquette that will allow me to form better relationships with employers. With my newfound social confidence, I have assumed leadership responsibilities at my job. I can now train my newer coworkers and provide better customer service. I may not spend my Friday nights taking notes anymore, but I believe I have learned more from my experiences with people than I would have analyzing a textbook. 

It is frightening to deviate from the path that others have paved. But at the end of the day, it is your life and no one else’s. Only you can decide your priorities and what should be most important. Taking the time to invest in yourself might mean doing more than what others tell you will make you successful. Explore what allows you to flourish and direct your motivations to doing what you believe will make you the best version of yourself. For some, that might mean working to become valedictorian, but for others, that may be joining a new club to make friends. What allows you to meet your maximum potential can only be determined by you. Ignore what others deem to be the road to perfection, and find your own meaning of the word greatness.