There seems to be a stereotypical view of what it means to be a successful high school student. However, everyone has different abilities, strengths, and interests he or she should pursue. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” For many students, getting good grades is viewed as the most important factor in determining one’s success. For them, perhaps the pathway to success requires obtaining A’s and taking AP classes. And while earning top grades may work for some, it often leads to anxiety and unhappiness if unachieved. Rather than focusing on maintaining an illusion of perfection, we should be embracing a more holistic vision of happiness and pushing ourselves to recognize and embrace our interests.

It should be more commonly recognized that there is not one correct path, and not one definition of success. Students should strive to enjoy high school and define their success based on their own goals. Getting good grades can be one part of that, but it shouldn’t be all of it. We are all more than just a GPA. For some, happiness is found through maintaining a job, excelling at a sport, community outreach or learning a trade. We all know that realistically one’s entire life is not determined by the GPA one earns in high school. Why then would we allow it to affect how we value ourselves?

The first few days of school are usually a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement because you get your schedule and get to see who you know in your classes, and dread because after the first few days comes a mountain of work and pressure. However, this year let’s make a pledge to ourselves that we focus on our growth as learners and not just the grade at the end. Paul Kimelman of Freakonomics.com discusses the subjectivity of grades, noting that there is “so much emphasis on homework versus actual understanding” and that most of “the ‘hard’ subjects are about memorizing,” not actual mastery of the subject. We can make things easier by taking classes that we are excited about, and not just because it is an AP or one that doesn’t have much homework. If we are interested in a subject we’ll do better and learn more because we enjoy the material. By adjusting how we value our education, we will naturally adjust our own sense of worth. No longer will we sit in class waiting to be judged, but rather, approach each class as an opportunity to expand our knowledge on a subject we are interested in.

Finally, we need to view ourselves and our achievements more holistically. People won’t stop defining us by our grades unless we take the first step. If all we care about is our transcript, and not the actual classes and what we get out of them, then we give other people the right to define us by a sheet of paper and not our actual experiences as well. If you feel overwhelmed by negativity, go out and make a positive change. It’s high school- have some fun! Take a break once in a while. A balanced life is a happy life – and that’s really what we all want in the end, right? But don’t take it from me, even Princeton encourages that their students “pursue fun with a vengeance.” If fun for you is taking 6 APs then by all means, party it up. But if you need something else, then don’t feel guilty or judged. In fact, try organizing your schedule in a way that makes fun a regularly scheduled ‘commitment,’ whether this means taking electives that interest you, making time for after school activities you enjoy or just taking time to hang out with friends and family.

Defining how to achieve happiness by one’s own standards is directly related to success in school; with self-respect, one can accomplish even the most challenging of goals.

This article is part of a series covering the role of grades in the lives of students. Click here to be redirected to the cover page.

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