Stop Trying to be Outstanding

Students often feel the need to be the “best of the best”–this way of thinking is extremely harmful
Students often feel overwhelmed by their need to overachieve.
Students often feel overwhelmed by their need to overachieve.
Ariel Arietta

“Average” is a word that terrifies many high school students.  

This makes sense, as in a hyper-competitive high school environment, it can feel as though being average equates to failure. 

The main reason for this immense pressure on students is that we are choosing to go to college at higher rates than ever before, as a college education is becoming a lot more important for young people joining the workforce.  Another cause?  H-F is fueling this need for its students to push themselves to burnout. 

Around this school, we constantly see this school boasting its 27 A.P. courses, countless highly competitive sports and extracurriculars, and outstanding alumni that we should all strive to be like.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with ambition.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to challenge yourself with A.P. classes.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be good at a sport or activity that you are passionate about.  There is nothing wrong with seeing an alum who has gone on to do great things and wants to follow in their footsteps.  However setting this standard of extremely high achievement leads to students feeling as though they need to work themselves to an unhealthy degree. 

This school is constantly pushing its students to excel, which is not inherently a negative thing.  But the 

problem is that the school has a blind spot–students are burnt out and overwhelmed from the intense workload that comes with striving to be “outstanding.”  

According to PBS, “As a professor at Yale over two decades ago, Suniya Luthar first attributed the ‘disturbingly higher’ rates of substance use, anxiety, and depression she found in certain communities to affluence, but additional research later showed ‘that it is not so much about family wealth as it is living in a subculture of competitiveness’.”  

H-F prides itself as a school boasting many opportunities for students to excel between the International Baccalaureate program, A.P. classes, etc., but this leads to these same side effects that Luthar describes.  This type of environment often makes students, frankly, miserable.  

But, of course, H-F isn’t the only reason for all of this.  Getting into college has become a lot more vital to not only individuals trying to succeed in the workforce but also to the economy as a whole.

According to The New York Times, “The economic advantage of getting a college degree remains at just about an all-time high when compared with the average earnings of Americans with only a high-school diploma.  In recent years, a typical college graduate earned a median wage premium of more than $30,000, or almost 75 percent more than those who had completed just high school, a 2019 New York Fed analysis found.”

The cruel irony of the situation is that, while earning a college diploma has become so much more of a necessity, it has also become way more difficult to accomplish.  

The same PBS article continued that, “the average [acceptance rate] at the nation’s top 51 schools was 35.9 percent in 2006 but by 2018 it was 22.6 percent. For top-10 schools, that stat went down from 16 percent to 6.4 percent.”

This leaves students feeling–not irrationally–that they need to work a lot harder to accomplish the same goal of getting accepted that earlier generations did with relative ease. 

This doesn’t mean high school students need to be miserable, though.  While current-day students do need to work comparatively harder, being “the best of the best” isn’t necessary.  

PBS described how many students feel their sense of worth stems from their academic performance.  When asked what college rejection letters would mean to him, student Alvin Cai from a highly-competitive school responded, “Everybody hates you.”  When asked what that means for his potential for the future, he answered, “You have none.”  

It is completely unhealthy to equate self-worth with academic performance or the ability to get into a certain college.  Even though it is extremely easy to fall into a trap promising that you need to take an overwhelming amount of A.P. and Honors classes and be the best at your extracurricular or sport in order to be “successful,” it’s absolutely necessary to let yourself breathe.  Be comfortable with “average.”

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