Stressing for success
My freshman year, I ran myself into the ground trying to live up to my dreams of going to a top school like Stanford, Berkeley or Yale. I’d heard about these colleges from friends’ siblings who went there and from TV shows like Gilmore Girls. I’d see Rory walking across the Yale campus with its old, ivy-covered brick buildings and cobblestone pathways. I wanted the same experience.
I thought my chances of going to a competitive university were better if I had straight A’s. After school, I’d do homework for three hours. I would read my math and science textbooks and take notes. When I didn’t understand my math homework, I’d go on the website hotmath.com, which teaches how to do math problems. I’d study for tests a few days in advance, going over my notes and reading them aloud. Sometimes I’d make up songs for vocabulary words or scientific processes. My biology song about prokaryote organisms (which don’t have cell nuclei) and eukaryotes (which have nuclei) went like this: “Pro means no. Eu means do.”
When I got my first report card, I was happy because I had all A’s. My mom said that she was proud of me. “However, you know that you don’t have to be perfect,” she told me. “I know,” I said, but I didn’t listen.
I need at least eight and a half hours of sleep, but I was going to bed around 10:30 and I had to get up at 6:00. I’d come down for breakfast and say, “I’m really sleepy.” At night my parents would come in around 8:30 and tell me to stop my homework and get ready for bed.
“I don’t want to. When will you let me be in charge of my own schedule?” I’d say. “Well, don’t complain to me that you’re tired in the morning,” my mom would reply. Arguments like these got me worked up and I couldn’t fall asleep. This made me even more tired.
Because of all that stress, I started getting sick about once a month. I had to stay home from school and lie on the couch, surrounded by crumpled tissues. I hated feeling crummy all the time and it was hard to complete makeup and regular work at the same time.
At the end of the year, I had straight A’s, but I wasn’t happy. I was tired of studying and my body was worn down. I really needed the summer break. However, instead of getting the fun summer I was expecting, I got sicker. I got strep throat at camp and had to go home a day early. After I recovered, my family and I went on a trip to Boston. But I had to go to the doctor’s when we returned home and she told me that I had mono and strep at the same time!
For the rest of the summer, I couldn’t go to movies and sleepovers. I was lying in bed or on the couch all day. It hurt to swallow so I couldn’t eat my favorite summer foods, like watermelon.
While in bed, I thought about ninth grade and realized that when I work too hard and don’t get enough sleep, I get sick. I didn’t want to work so hard the next year that I got sick again.
Sophomore year, I decided to stop pushing myself so hard. I only read my notes twice before a test. Even though I studied less, I remembered things better because I was more relaxed. I trusted that I was ready and I didn’t study any more.
That year, chemistry was confusing. But I didn’t freak out. I just asked my teacher my questions the next day. I also went to the library almost every day after school and stayed there for two hours. Because it’s quiet, I’d get most of my work done there. Usually, I had some time after dinner to read or talk on the phone. I also got sick less.
I was really happy with my plan, or so I thought. One day when I went to my school library, I saw a bunch of books on a table about how to make yourself look appealing to schools. I picked up a book that had checklists for each grade.
Was I doing enough?
I started to worry when I saw some of the things on the sophomore checklist. I hadn’t even thought about them. It said to volunteer as much as you can at a place that was meaningful to you. I had volunteered at the food pantry at my temple, but I didn’t like that I spent most of my time with bagels and bread instead of interacting with people in need, so I stopped after a few months. “Oh my God,” I thought. “Why am I so behind on this stuff?”
The book made me feel like I had to be one of those people who did everything or else I wouldn’t get into a good school. But when I realized that I’d been standing there for five minutes, I put the book back and walked away. I realized that I didn’t have to follow exactly what it said. I didn’t want to mess up what I was doing. I was more relaxed and happier and had more time to hang out with my friends on weekends. I couldn’t do everything on the list because I would get run down.
Sophomore year I got all A’s. Junior year is a lot of work. Right now I have two Bs, and I know that it’s not the end of the world.
I still want to go to a good school, but I’m not going to aim so high that it takes a toll on my health. My parents say they’ll be happy wherever I go. I’ve realized that wherever I go to college, I’m going to have a good experience and learn. I want to go to college somewhere that will make me happy.