Recently, I found a dark, quiet place in my school and I cried.
I mean, I ugly cried -- there was snot and hiccups and a wad of tissues. I cried because I hadn’t been sleeping well. I cried because I was stressed. I cried because there was too much to do and never enough time to get it done.
While sobbing at school might not sound like a success, I wouldn’t consider it a failure or something to be ashamed of. It may have been embarrassing to emerge from my school’s video broadcast studio tear-stained and sniffling, but it was a good reminder that I am human and can only do so much before I break.
When so much of my identity has been quantified by a letter grade in Infinite Campus, it can be easy to break.
I’ve always been the smart kid. That’s the first adjective people have used to describe me since as far back as I can remember. When I started high school, I realized that being a smart kid came with certain expectations. I would take AP classes. I would get straight As. I would go to college.
If I did these things, I could be a successful “smart kid.” That narrative definitely came from other people; from my parents, from my teachers, from the state of Colorado and its Advanced Learning Plan program.
But over the years I’ve internalized those expectations and at one point I started to conflate perfection with success.
When you’re told you need to be better in order to be successful, it’s hard to feel like you’ve accomplished anything. What I’ve learned is that striving for perfection is an admirable goal, as long as it’s realistic. Unfortunately, realistic goals and expectations are hard to develop. I know that I cannot be perfect. Perfection is like infinity; it’s a concept, a limit that can never be reached. I’ve had to learn that success shouldn’t be measured in doing everything perfectly, but by trying my best. And in doing my best I reach my closest approximation to perfect.
My expectations can be a burden. Sometimes I get stressed and cry. But, my expectations are also the things that drive me. I’m a better person because I have spent so much time pushing myself to do better. The most important thing about expectations is that they are realistic and they push you to be your best rather than bog you down.
Madeline Robinson is a recent graduate from the Douglas County School District. She served as an intern with Colorado Community Media.
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