“I didn’t want anyone to be able to say that there was someone else working harder than I was.”
I didn’t say this, but I could have. This quote is from Demi Lovato, a Disney TV star and singer who recently got out of rehab for “eating disorder and emotional issues,” speaking in the most recent issue of Seventeen Magazine. Her quote resonated with me and caught my attention because it reminded me of myself and many other girls my age that I know.
In middle school, I was constantly pushing myself to be the best at everything that I did. It got to the point where it wasn’t even a goal anymore, it was an expectation, and an impossible one. At the time I didn’t see it that way.
I thought in order to be happy in life and “worth” anything, I had to be perfect – have the perfect personality, the perfect relationships, and, above all, the perfect grades. That was all I cared about. If I got one B+ on my report card, I might as well have failed.
I went to a highly competitive middle school, and that environment fed into my need to be perfect. My school assigned immense amounts of homework, to the point that I was up until midnight writing essays, at the ripe age of thirteen years old. In retrospect, I feel that this competitive environment was not in the best interests of the students, and did not take the students’ mental and social needs into consideration.
When students are educated in a competitive and high-pressure environment, they learn to put others’ expectations before their own. This is not to say that school is not incredibly important, but it has reached the point where it has become everything to some kids, and they are losing their perspective on what is truly important in life, such as relationships and having strong moral values. Losing perspective is exactly what happened to me. I finally began to crack under all the pressure.
For a long time, I had dreamed of attending a very prestigious private high school. It was the only school I could imagine myself attending, and it became my one and only goal. I thought that if I did not succeed, all my dreams would be ruined and that I would have no future. I tried so hard, but my best efforts were not enough. I did not get in. I was crushed. At that point I thought that it was the worst possible thing that could ever happen to me. For the first time in my life, I was faced with trying something totally new and different – attending a public high school where I knew virtually no one.
It took a long time to get used to a large high school, but I actually really like it now. I ended up taking a photography class for an elective, and have discovered a new passion in my life. I have decided that after high school I would like to attend an art school. I am able to attend photo classes at a local community college to pursue my interest in photography, an option that wouldn’t have been available to me at a private school. I have a feeling that if I had gone to that private school, it’s unlikely that any of this would have happened to me.
It would never have occurred to me that attending this high school could have turned out so well. I got so caught up in the pressure to be the perfect student and to be the best academically that I overlooked what was really important in life, such as having fun and learning about myself.
People used to call me “motivated” or an “over achiever” when they talked about me. I found those titles flattering, but now I realize that there is such a thing as being too driven. It took me a long time to see that there is no point in striving to be perfect if I’m not happy. In the end, I also learned that what seemed to be my biggest failure could lead me to my biggest joys and successes. Just like with a photograph, sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking at until you give things time to develop.