High School, High Scores, and The Deathly Comparison Trap


Jessica Lim, Chief of Layout, Staff Writer

I am a model student. I am the definition of academic excellence, and I WILL be perfect.

Or at least, that’s what I was telling myself.

What I am about to share is quite personal. But by imparting some of the things that I’ve learned and the growth that I’ve experienced both as a student and as a person, I hope it may help other students gain a new perspective because school shapes us just as much as we shape the school.

In the summer of 2014, I had left junior high feeling very confident atop my mountain of A-pluses and scholastic awards. I prided myself on my grades, wrongly believing that being a top student was easy and I was just that good. After being on the “advanced” track for so long, I had secretly begun to think that I was somehow better, or superior, to those in “just” the challenge or regular classes, though I would never admit those thoughts to myself at the time. It’s shameful and embarrassing to admit now that I look back.

Freshman year was a hard slap across the face. I quickly realized that high school was much more demanding and much more difficult than anything I had previously experienced. I would pull my phone out from my back pocket (where I could always have it with me), log onto PowerSchool and check my grades five, ten, even twenty times a day just to see if they went up, or God forbid, down a measly tenth of a point. Green boxes meant “good” and red boxes meant “bad.” Unprepared for the level of work required by my classes, those maddening little numbers were almost always highlighted in red, and in my twisted grade-obsessed young mind, they meant that I was a complete failure.

For once, I was having trouble keeping up with the subject material and the people around me. I felt lost and overwhelmed like I was suddenly drowning in a sea of uncertainty, because no matter how hard I studied, how much effort I put into the homework and the class, I was still struggling to get the grades that I so prized. The frustration only grew when my classmates easily grasped content that I could not understand or performed better than I did on exams.

Throughout my whole life, I had formed my identity around my perceived intelligence. I measured myself in test scores, unable to help that egoistic pinch of satisfaction within me if they came out higher than that of others or the pang of self-hatred if they were lower. It was this unhealthy mindset that tossed me onto an emotional rollercoaster of harrowing disappointment and shallow happiness.

Inevitably, the stress reached a point where I completely crumbled. If not the smart girl, if not the overachiever, if not the girl who had everything together, then who even was I? Were my friends even friends or were they just more competition, people I had to surpass?

As students, we often joke about our desperation. We live a humorous dichotomy between wanting to screw it all and simply give up, and actually caring immensely about our education.

But I was truly desperate. So when everything I had built myself upon fell into chaos, the only way I could possibly move forward was to shift the paradigm. I had to change the way I viewed myself, and in turn, the way I viewed others, which initiated the positive change in direction for my life.

With perfection no longer in mind, I simply strove to become the best version of myself: one who was balanced, conscientious, accepting, and able to live a life beyond grades, class levels, and constant insecurity.

People these days like to praise individuality. We like to promote the idea of being yourself. I am now a junior, and the memories of middle school feel so far away as college draws nearer by the day, but I am still learning important lessons about not comparing myself to others. Other people’s weaknesses don’t make me stronger and the same is true vice versa. Your self-worth and identity are exactly that – yours. It’s not up to anyone else to define you. We are human, and as such we are multifaceted. There’s more to you and me than our GPA or how many extracurriculars we’re in.

Now, that’s not to say we should completely cast off our academic pursuits. Rather, we should make the most of all that our school provides us and encourage one another to work hard during these four years that we are together; ultimately, we hope to see beyond the stresses and difficulties of today into the brighter tomorrow of our futures.