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Happy Being a B+ Student
It's OK not to be perfect
Grace Garcia
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“Did you know Lisa got a 97 average and her class rank is a 2?” my friend Kathy asked me.

“Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!” I said excitedly.

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“Yeah, but she was crying because she isn’t ranked number one,” said my other friend Elizabeth.

I was confused. Although I don’t mind my 80-plus average, I’d be ecstatic to be in the top 10 of my class and have a 90 average.

I know a lot of teens like Lisa who are rarely satisfied with their grades and feel pressure from their teachers and parents to be perfect. But I’ve done fine in school with no burning desire to be the best. Most of my friends also get grades in the 80s and work hard like I do. We don’t fall apart if we don’t get the best grade on a test or assignment. But, in my school, we’re a minority.

I value my free time to do things I love, like reading and writing. I try to keep a balance between work and fun. I don’t like to be constantly busy—I need to do nothing sometimes.

I identified these priorities in middle school, and they keep me sane and calm. I don’t do well under stress. Fortunately, my parents, teachers, and other adults respected these priorities and didn’t try to change them.

Losing Myself

But that all started to change in my junior year. The work piled on and I became overwhelmed. I had to study for hours for the SATs and ACTs, continue to study for tests for my classes and Regents, get in extracurriculars for my college résumé, stay after school for tutoring, and come in on weekends for mandatory extra help and test prep. I felt like if I stopped even
for a second, my grades would plummet. I was terrified of that
happening.

My teachers constantly reinforced how important junior year was and how much colleges would be looking at it, which placed a bigger weight on me. School was taking over my life.

I felt like I was losing my happy, free self. I couldn’t do the things I love most, like hanging out with my friends, writing, reading, taking walks, or just doing nothing. My friendships became weaker. I started having chronic migraines, and I dreaded going to school. Rather than improving, my grades were getting worse because I was too stressed to focus well. I also felt depressed and unmotivated. Suddenly, my teachers were saying, “There’s room for improvement,” although in the past, my best had been good enough for them.

Breaking Point

There was a particular class that put the situation into focus for me. I was in computer science, and we only had a few minutes left to submit our project. My group and I were racing to complete it. If it was a minute late, we would lose credit. Something wasn’t working in the code that we had written and I grew frustrated as the clock ticked.

“Forget it! Let’s just send what we have.” And I hit send.

We went back to our seats and all I could think about was how it was incomplete, and then I suddenly realized what the problem was in the code.

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But we had already submitted the project; it was too late. I tried my best to keep calm. My teacher was speaking, but it just sounded muffled to me. I had failed my group and myself because I figured out the solution to the problem too late.

As soon as class was dismissed, I dashed out, pushing past the people in the crowded hallway. I burst into tears and called my older sister. “I can’t do this anymore. Can you please pick me up? I want to go home.” My teacher saw me and took me into a quiet room. After catching my breath I ended up staying at school, but I felt lost. I was panicking over one group assignment? And for what?

Too Much Pressure

A few weeks later, I was in Mandarin class when I started feeling dizzy. I felt aggravated by the chatter of my peers as the teacher tried to talk. A migraine was starting to set in and I couldn’t think clearly.

I asked to go to the office to call my mom. My teacher nodded; I walked out and down the empty hallway. I felt myself breathing heavily and I couldn’t steady my racing thoughts.

I walked through the doors and down the stairs. I got to the first floor and pushed open the doors that led outside. The New York City air blew in my face, whipping my hair back as I skipped down the steps. I pulled out my phone and called my mom.

“Ma? I left school….I just couldn’t be there anymore,” I said. I met up with my mom at her job. She asked me what was wrong but I couldn’t fully explain because I felt like she wouldn’t understand. Also I wasn’t in the mood to talk.

We went on a walk to a small park that overlooked the East River. It was quiet; only a couple of people were around. I went up to the railing and I watched the water push against the rocks. Small boats sailed past. I started breathing easier. I had had a mini panic attack; I knew it was from the pressure at school.

Later I called my sister, who was in her junior year of college, and asked her for help. She said she was going through something similar. “It may seem like the end of the world with all the stress, but you have to push through it. Don’t let it get to you because it’s almost over. You’re a smart girl, you can do it.” Talking to her helped me. I knew school would be over in a few weeks, and then I could go back to my old life.

Reflecting

I recently read an article in The New York Times called “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection.” It was about how young people are expected to be “ ‘effortlessly perfect’: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, all without visible effort.”

I don’t think there is one definition of perfection. Even if society sets out this idea of a perfect person, it’s impossible because there are differing opinions about beauty and intelligence and even success. Asking someone to try to be all of this is like asking someone not to be human.

These expectations make young people feel like if we make even a minor mistake, it will greatly impact us. But I think it’s important for teens to be allowed to screw up. I’ve certainly learned a lot by being allowed to do that.

Making a mistake gives you a chance to be a better person and get a clearer understanding of what you did wrong. Also, you will know what to do if you come across a similar situation again. For example, after getting a 65 on a trigonometry test once I felt defeated. But then I went to my teacher to ask him if there was any way I could bring up my grade. He said by doing test corrections I would get a few points back, so I did. The test corrections were also great practice and I understood trig better after that.

Once I finished my junior year, I felt like I could breathe again. All I have to do in my senior year is take three mandatory classes and I’m finished. I think the fact that I lost myself became a reality check. Fortunately, college is more flexible than high school, and when I make my schedule I will be sure to keep a balance of work and free time that feels right for me.

(NYC-2017-03-09)