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By Jessica Zang

Overachieving in High School: Is It Worth It?

Uploaded: Feb 24, 2020

In Palo Alto, where every high-achieving parent moves to get closer to Stanford and give their children the best education, emphasis on schoolwork is often overwhelming. With friends skipping two math levels and peers owning profitable startups, it’s easy to feel a push to be the best. Here, peer pressure takes a wholly different form. Instead of pressuring friends to hit vapes or smoke joints, students indirectly pressure their peers to overachieve by overachieving themselves.

What results is a population of high strung teenagers with only a few topics of conversation: grades, teachers, tests, homework, and occasional drama. Far from life in High School Musical, school seems to be all about competing. Teachers who won’t round an 89.5% to an A become villains and students with straight A’s are everywhere. Parents compare their children to “higher-achieving” friends when in reality, all of us are unique and shouldn’t be compared. Extracurriculars often become activities one excels in but doesn’t even like.

At the end of the day, parents and students alike create an atmosphere centered around getting into a good (often meaning Ivy-League) college. What’s the appeal of going to such a competitive school? Not getting a better education, but instead how good it would look on a resume. Everything done here is to achieve a greater goal. The progression goes like this: straight-A student and varsity sports captain goes to a good college, gets good credentials, graduates into graduate school or a high-paying job, and ultimately ends up with a comfortable life.

Often I wonder what it means to have a good life. Here, it’s constructed that a good life stems from having money to sustain yourself later on. Many often trace the path back to high school, following the progression to become successful. But what’s success without happiness? When does living comfortably become more important than joy, love, and personal fulfillment?

While focusing on success is a good cause of motivation, it shouldn’t come at the cost of experiencing life. My greatest fear is when it’s all said and done and when I’m halfway through my life, that I might regret throwing it all away for success. Even if I achieve my most-wanted goals, what’s next? I’m afraid that by shutting myself out to the world to keep my eyes on the prize, I might become an adult devoid of personality and humanity, one who can’t find meaning in their life outside of getting that promotion or obtaining that raise. What is this shallow motivation if there’s nothing underneath?

In the end, the problem with overachieving is that students fail to work for themselves. Do I really love computer science, or did I convince yourself it was my passion to distract myself from the fact that I’m pursuing something I’ll eventually despise? When people live their lives to reach a goal or to please others, we are going to have a generation of brilliant adults in successful jobs, who go home regretting not taking that sculpting class instead of computer science, or choir instead of chemistry. I don’t want to see a generation that was so consumed by the chase for success that they forgot what it was like to feel fulfilled and true to themselves.

The only way to avoid regret is to follow your heart, as cheesy as it sounds. I know I’ll never regret my actions because, at some point, they were all I wanted for myself. If I always make decisions thinking of the future, when will I ever enjoy the present?