F for Effort

School stinks. Do I really mean that? No, not really. I love the idea of school. I love what school sometimes is, or, more accurately, used to be. I used to love going to class with the sole intention and purpose of learning. I loved pushing myself and finding I could reach horizons I wasn’t even aware of. I loved lectures, and taking notes, and going home being able to truthfully say- ‘I learned something today.’ After all, what good would this all be without learning new things? What good would life be if we went through it completely ignorant about the world around us? If we didn’t know about good literature, and confusing math problems, and the environment, and the periodic table? It would be pretty boring, and ignorant, to not want to learn about the world around us. It’s so exceedingly interesting, it’s a shame many are truly wary of the idea of learning. Learning is fun, and school is meant for learning. So, that would lead us to believe that school is fun too, right? Wrong, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret- school isn’t meant for learning anymore.

‘School stinks,’ because being overwhelmed stinks. Not sleeping enough and having a messed up sleeping schedule is tiring. Saying ‘no’ to plans with friends because you have to do homework or study is difficult. Feeling that one mistake will cause your whole life to be over is overwhelming. Putting so much weight on each assignment, and test, and quiz, makes us feel like we have to be perfect. And since it’s impossible to be perfect, we’re disappointed in ourselves when we don’t always get a perfect score. We’ve become so obsessed with the grades we let define us we forget about the things that really matter in life. We forget about the simple things. Playing a board game with a brother. Calling a grandmother to see how she’s been doing. Having a conversation with parents, instead of going through the motions and forgetting about the people that matter in life. That’s why school stinks.

It’s not that I don’t like school. I don’t like what school has become. I don’t like what it’s made me become. I don’t like how it makes me overwhelmed and stressed and tired- all the time. I don’t like how I’ve been talking about and thinking about college since the 8th grade. I’m already pondering about the SAT prep courses I have to take, how I’m going to make time for that, and how I’m going to make the score I need. I’m already thinking about my college essay, and if it’ll stand out from the millions of other high school students who apply.

I’m fifteen years old, and I have the next ten years of my life nearly completely planned out. And that’s great. People tell me how driven I am, and how I’m so ‘ahead of the game,’ but that’s not true. When everyone is pushed to be ahead of the game, then nobody is ahead of the game. When everyone is getting their associates or close to it by the time they finish high school, then who’s really ahead? A 4.3 GPA used to be considered so high level. A 4.3 could easily get you valedictorian in other schools, in other areas, at another time. I’ve watched YouTube videos from not more than a decade ago, and the valedictorian had a GPA of 4.3, and I remember laughing out loud after hearing that. In my school? A 4.3 GPA gets me a class rank of 53 out of 600, the top ten percent. And don’t even get started about the bigger schools, the ones with a class of 1,200; a 4.3 can hardly get you a class rank of 100.

‘A for effort,’ the saying goes. Like, you try your best, and that’s all that matters. ‘You’re worth an A.’ Tell, me then, do I get an ‘A for effort,’ when I prepare for a tournament? When I do absolutely everything in my power to do my best- I research and practice and give it my all, and I don’t place. I spend my whole Saturday competing and I don’t place. Do I get a pat on the back, or an ‘A for effort?’ No, and nor do I want one. I get to spectate the final rounds and be left wondering what it is I’m missing to get there. I give it my all, and it still isn’t enough. There is no A, and there is no reward. There’s just time spent that isn’t reflected in my ranks.

In school, there definitely isn’t an ‘A for effort’. You can spread yourself as thin as you’d like, and spend every spare moment of your life doing work or studying. Sometimes, that’s what I feel I have to do to get the grades I want. Just do school, 24/7, and that’s how I’ll achieve perfection. It’s not true, because I do I have a life. I do other things. But a lot of the time, I feel those other things don’t matter, because even when I’m ‘having fun,’ or hanging out with friends, all I’m thinking about is school anyways. Even when I’m not doing assignments, or studying, it follows me everywhere I go.

I feel so young and so old at the same time, as I suppose all teenagers do. Like, I’m still a little kid, yet I’m expected to have it together all of the time. I’m expected to not miss an assignment or due date or mess anything up. I’m expected to have impeccable time management skills. I’m expected to do all my assignments perfectly and in a timely manner. I don’t know who it is that expects these things of me. Maybe a lot of it is myself. I feel that I have to be perfect so I can get perfect grades and so everything can go perfectly according to plan. I feel that everyone around me has everything together, all of the time, when I know that’s not fair to myself. ‘The grass is always greener on the other side,’ and all that jazz, but that’s just another thing. I feel school breeds an environment where everyone is in a constant, if underlying, competition. And because of that, we pretend we’re doing perfect. We put on a facade of perfection because then maybe we will be. Besides, if everyone else is doing so much better than us, if everyone is so perfect, then why can’t we be too? See the problem with this?

At the end of the day, effort doesn’t really mean anything. An F… is still an F. A 77% average, is still a C. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into it. I’m not saying your grades don’t matter and be a high school dropout. Don’t do that (because if you do I’m not accountable). I’m not saying you being upset over your grades and lack of perfection isn’t validated or important- because it so is. I’m not saying that you’re going to forget about your grades because of how much they don’t matter- on the contrary, I remember every quarterly grade that wasn’t an A I’ve ever gotten. Because, for a long time, I let that define me. And even now, I’m going to remember those grades, because I learned from them. What I’m saying, is that your happiness is infinitely more important.

At the end of the day, we’re teenagers. We’re born. We have a few years of freedom, and then we start middle school, where grades start mattering. We get to high school, and all we think about is our grades, our SATs and ACTs, college, and how we’re even going to pay for college. We get to college, and then we’re thinking about what we’re actually going to do with our lives. We get a meaningless degree, we tack it up on our wall, and we waste away the rest of our lives doing a job that means absolutely nothing to us. All that effort, and what did it give you? All that effort, and those perfect test scores you gave everything to have, those As and trophies you worked for- all mean nothing. It means nothing if you weren’t happy doing it.

This school year so far has been full of me striving for perfection. Me putting the maximum amount of effort in. And where did all that effort get me? It got me a C. It got me stressful days and nights. It gave me distance in relationships that matter to me. It gave me unhappiness. All that effort- and I’m here, writing this blog post, and I realize how unhappy I truly was. I realize that, how hard I worked? How dedicated I was? None of it matters, nor will it ever matter, if I’m not happy while doing it.

I feel like all around me, my classes are full of zombies. Zombies, who are striving for perfection and maybe struggling with it just as much as I am. Teenagers who are putting their lives on hold for school. Putting their dreams on hold in favor of completing their endless work. When does it end? When will anyone stop putting their life on hold- pausing their dreams and goals and aspirations? After high school, they’ll be putting their dreams on hold for college. Then for a career. Then for a family or whatever comes next for them. If you don’t stop putting your life on hold right now, you’ll never truly live. Not really.

So stop it, and start doing the things that really matter. Have stupidly amazing conversations about why the platypus exists. Play a video game or watch a show with your little brother. Let your hair get wet in the rain. Dress like a slob. Go out with your cousin. Facetime your friends and don’t care about how your hair is a mess and you look terrible. Enjoy that family meal. Ponder the meaning of life. Read a good book. Bake a new recipe. Give your dog a walk. Eat a whole bag of chips. Those dreams that seem unattainable? Work towards them, right now. If you want to publish a book, start writing. Start writing and continue writing, and make time for it. Do the little things and the big things that make you happy because right now is when you have the time for it. Right now is when you have the time. So do it.

Focus on what schools was meant for. Focus on learning, every single day. Learn something new and be interested in it. Tell your teachers good morning, and when you leave, tell them to have a good day. They might not care, or it might mean the world to them. Teachers have a tough time, and they aren’t always in the mood to teach you or grade your home work or give you a test. They don’t get happy when you get a bad grade. Your teachers care about you, and it won’t kill you to care about them too. They are people, contrary to popular belief. Be grateful for being able to go to school, it’s a privilege denied to many. Make the most of what was granted to you, but remember to be happy. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect.

I’m aware this post might be a bit rambly and all over the place. It’s most definitely not perfect. A lot of the time, I spend so much time with a blog post done and I just don’t post it, because I want to ‘perfect it.’ Not this time. Look for the typos, look for the flaws, look for the lack of flow, look for the mistakes. This post has them. I have them. I’m not perfect. I can’t ever expect perfection out of myself, because then I’ll just always be disappointed. This blog post isn’t perfect, and for once, I’m okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with that.

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