What defines success? Is it having a 4.0 GPA? How about being involved in multiple activities while taking AP classes and working a part time job? Is it getting a perfect 36 on the ACT every time you take it?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one definition of success is, “the correct or desired result of an attempt.” This begs the question: What result do I desire from my attempt in X, Y, or Z?
Too often, we expect the results of our endeavors to measure up to a standard of perfection; this is based on what we perceive as perfection in others.
In particular, the importance of this type of success has been ingrained into MN’s culture by the consistent high standard our school reaches in academics and activities and by the celebration of that norm. The assumption that arises from the standard is that if we don’t attain good grades or do well in our activities, we have less worth.
For example, I am taking Physics this year. At times, it is a challenge for me, and I have felt as though it is beyond my mental capacity to understand every concept we are learning. That alone is enough to cut at the pride I typically feel about my academic performance.
Beyond this, I was incredulous when I discovered that there was an IB Physics class–and that people I knew were taking it. I did not understand how anyone could comprehend this subject enough to survive it within the IB curriculum, which is known for being particularly academically rigorous.
I began to wonder why others were up to the challenge of taking certain advanced classes, while I was not. I felt inferior and less intelligent compared to them. I asked myself, why are they so much “better” than me? Why are they so perfect?
This pressure to succeed at the highest level leads to balancing risk and reward. The risk: insecurity, stress, and burnout. The reward: the satisfaction of attaining perfection.
Is the risk worth it?
No. While working hard to improve yourself is an admirable characteristic, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are a lesser person simply because you achieved a lower result than others. Deriving your worth and identity from being successful in academics (or any activity) will never fulfill you because there is always someone who will be “better” than you at a myriad of things.
Even though perfection is an impossible goal, studies show that young people today still pursue it, often at the expense of their mental health. One study published in 2016 by a senior clinical psychologist, Karina Limburg, found that “socially prescribed perfectionism” correlated to symptoms of mental health disorders such as social phobia, suicide ideation, anxiety and depression.
The illusion of success being the end-all in life also leads to overworking yourself. You may choose to sacrifice sleep, family time, and peace of mind in favor of working and studying every hour of the day–just so you can receive a 100% on your math test.
Additionally, humans were not created to be identical–not in hobbies, not in appearance, and not in talents. It is okay to not have all the characteristics your friends have. You are your own person and have unique traits! You may be a couple grade levels ahead in math and great at singing, while one of your classmates may be an excellent runner and loves to write. Those characteristics are a part of who you are.
So, you should not feel ashamed of your performance in a school subject or activity because you didn’t meet someone else’s criteria that they hold for themselves. It is far better to identify your personal talents and passions, enjoying and being proud of what you are good at throughout your journey in life.
Furthermore, you should pinpoint your weaknesses as well. That way, you can set goals for yourself and work at those goals–not others’ goals–in order to improve yourself.
Andrée Seu Peterson, a columnist for World News Group, wrote about the diversity of talents each human has been given in her column piece “Our Escape Room.” This line perfectly encapsulates the proper attitude we should have as we approach our academics, activities, and how we see ourselves based on our personal talents and interests:
“We’re not responsible for what we’re born with but only how we use it.”