What Does Success Mean to You?

Changing the way we compare ourselves as high school students


Gabrielle Williams

Graphic by Gabrielle Williams

Gabrielle Williams, Opinion and Entertainment Editor

High school is an important time for development. We learn how to learn, how to make friends, how to get over losing friends, and how to become successful.

We learned from the adults in our lives that numbers are important as well. Whether it’s a number on a scale, a percentage on Infinite Campus, or a test score on AP Classroom. We measure each other and our success through these numbers. We constantly say that we know our test scores don’t define us, our grades don’t make us who we are. But we keep asking. We keep asking each other what we got on our most recent math test or what our grade is in English class. We feed into a system of comparison because it’s all we’ve ever known.

I remember in third grade I thought changing our elementary school grades to “on track” and “off track” was unbelievably stupid. Now as a junior in high school I wish every day that idea carried over into higher levels of education. We are preparing for life, and part of life is disappointment. I understand that. I also understand that comparison is important in order to keep us motivated. But we are riding the line between motivation and devastation. I open Infinite Campus on my phone and by habit I click on the grades tab. Why do we measure success through these numbers?

I feel as though I’m one of those people who doesn’t have an extraordinary talent; I don’t thrive in one area over another. I never thought anything of this until this year. Once I became an upperclassman I noticed how competitive life suddenly became. I wonder who will get into what school, or how much money someone will get for college. I wonder if my dream college will accept me or the girl sitting next to me.

Most of us feel the need to beat each other out in order to get to the finish line of high school and know where we’re going. I hate this system, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. I believe that everyone is good at something, and what we put on our college applications doesn’t necessarily represent that.

There are so many issues in the world, and because of this, education has often landed on the back burner. In America we have wonderful opportunities and privileges beyond our understanding. Most American students who complain about school have heard an adult say, “Some kids don’t get the privilege to go to school”. This is an important fact to recognize when discussing the American education system. Even though education in America is incredibly advanced compared to a lot of places around the world, that doesn’t mean we don’t have things that need fixing. If one person has a broken leg, and another has a broken finger; that doesn’t mean they both aren’t broken. Although the issue is so much bigger than us, I believe that we can fix our broken finger.

I wish I had the answer. I wish I knew how we could change everything and make school a better place for everyone. If the answer were simple we would have fixed things already. The most important thing we can do now is think consciously about how we view our success in school. Think about why you’re checking your grades, think about why you are asking your friend what their grade is. If we begin to understand why we compare ourselves to others, we can learn how to be okay with our individual successes.

Instead of asking someone what they got on their AP Write in English, ask them what they wrote about. Instead of opening Infinite Campus to check your grades, ask your teacher how you can improve in their class. Instead of anxiously awaiting the day PSAT scores drop, do something else that you would have more fun doing. It’s important to be “successful” in high school, and it’s important for us to try our best. But this looks different for everyone. We can’t limit the definition of success to a combination of numbers. There are a million different ways to be successful, and once we figure out how we as individuals can succeed, we will no longer feel the need to compare ourselves to our peers.

When an adult tells a high school student that they won’t even remember feeling stressed about classes, and they have no idea what “real life” will really be like; it seems helpful but it’s truly minimizing. Right now, who we are and what we do in high school is one of the only important things to us, because it’s all we know. I’m sure in ten years we will forget what it felt like to apply to college or check Infinite Campus, but right now it’s our main priority because of the system we live in.

I think everyone in high school shares a collective feeling of anxiety knowing that in a few years everything will be completely different. Moving away from home and stepping outside of our comfort zone is good for us, but it can be extremely uncomfortable. High school is supposed to be a time for students to figure out what they want to do as soon as they graduate. But we often forget that it’s not necessary to know exactly what we want when we walk off that stage holding our diploma. We have time to change our minds and continue to grow after the cap and gown come off. We have our whole lives to find our passion, we shouldn’t be expected to know what it is before we get the chance to see what’s outside of our hometown.

I want everyone who reads this to begin to think of school differently. I want everyone to understand that even if they don’t have perfect grades, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth anything. As long as you are actively trying to be the best version of yourself, you are successful. Work hard, and no one can tell you that you failed, because you tried. It’s easy to forget that we don’t need to figure everything out right now. I hope you walk away from this incredibly messy rant disguised as an opinion article remembering that as long as you try, you are successful. You are the only person who can ultimately decide if what you do holds meaning. Once you start to believe that, you will learn what success really means to you.