A Project for Better Journalism chapter
Opinion, Showcase

Into the sun and absolutely worth it

I used to joke about having “senioritis” my sophomore year. It wasn’t that I had lost my motivation—quite the contrary, I had my sights set on things far beyond the walls of Littleton High School. I can see now that I really didn’t know what senioritis meant.

I saw high school as a mere stepping stone, the intermediary phase between my idle youth and my ideal future. I wanted the time to be enjoyable (and rest assured, it was!) but I had no illusions about what these four years meant; they were just one piece to the grand old puzzle that is my life. Fueled by ferocious ambition and some vague internal compass, I sought to use my time in high school to propel myself into the collegiate success that would somehow guarantee me an incredible life with my own company, a multi-book deal (preferably a trilogy) and a little villa in the Galapagos.

However, as I approach the apex of my high school career, hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. I see now that the path I had been running headlong into for so long wasn’t necessarily all that I thought it would be. Although by all measures of my own predetermined standards I “succeeded” (Ivy League acceptance, high quantitative marks that in no way whatsoever measure intelligence and a small band of teachers whom I text more than I should), these measures of success aren’t all they seemed cracked up to be.

Looking back, I see that I had somehow gotten my own self-worth confused with my success academically and my triumphs in the college application process. When I found out I couldn’t go to my “dream college,” the one I had worked so tirelessly to gain acceptance to, I was devastated. Even though I had some awesome and affordable options, I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that the last four years of high school had been spent in vain, that nothing I did (or even more dangerously, nothing I was) had actually mattered. I needed that college to validate my worth. I see now that I was less heartbroken about the lost resources and quality of education than I was about the brand name I wanted prominently displayed on my hoodie to show to everyone that I was worth it.

When I began to think that all was lost in the realm of academia, I was forced to look outside of everything that I thought defined me and acknowledge all of the things that I hadn’t previously valued as much. It was in these “extras” (memories with friends, personal writings, beautiful vulnerability…) that I truly found the value of myself and realized that I had and was so much more than a college application.

Although coming to terms with the reality of my future this spring was difficult and heartbreaking, I came out of this experience with a new understanding of myself and my own self worth. I realized that everything I had done in high school was worth it. All of my 2 AM nights studying, the 8-page research essays and the hours texting my teachers had all contributed to the person that I am today. Yet at the same time, all of the 3 AM nights with friends, the 12-page short stories and blog posts and the times saying “yes” instead of “no, sorry, I can’t” gave me something to hold on to when the rest of it fell away.

Ultimately, I don’t believe that my experience is uncommon. Whether you are all-consumed by the need to attend a prestigious university, motivated by your desire to dominate the social scene or controlled by your aspirations of becoming a professional athlete, it’s incredibly easy to let high school be about one thing. Focus and ambition are great–never lose those. But if I have even one iota of wisdom to impart, it’s this: don’t let your end goals determine your worth. You are so much more than the piece of paper you spent years working for. And know that even if you get “it”, it won’t feel nearly as good if you don’t have all the other pieces of the puzzle. Try not to get too lost in the tunnel and don’t forget to let in some light. That way, when you make it to the other side, your eyes will have already adjusted to the sun.