Have you ever been told by your parents that you had to do well in school? I have. My family has always valued high grades. That is not to say I was good at getting them. In fact, I distinctly remember my very first history test in the first year of high school. It was on the subject of prehistory and I was the worst in my class, earning myself the equivalent of a C. But when I reread my answers, I noticed most of them were not wrong exactly – just not extensive enough. As I tried to improve my grades, I learned how to answer exam questions in a way that matched with my teachers’ wishes. Before the year was over I was at the top of my class in history, getting better grades with every new exam.
This is what the classic school system does best: it trains us to meet others’ expectations. Teachers have the power to reward kids who fulfill their requirements, essentially telling us whether we are successful. It’s not just exam answers, too: discipline and even simple teacher-student interaction all influence our grades. And these grades determine whether we are “good students” or “bad students”. Which is more impactful than you might think: since for many teenagers the concept ‘student’ is part of their identity, their grades essentially influence whether they perceive themselves as “good” or “bad”.
You won’t be surprised that people who value being perceived as good, try harder to obtain good grades. Mind you, I’m not talking about them becoming experts in fields of their interest, or them thinking outside of the box. What I’m saying is that these students, and there are a great many of them (or should I say ‘us’?), learn how to adapt to match what their teachers’ expect.
Then, we get our degrees and head out into the real world. And that’s where the problems start… So many of us get good jobs, stable relationships and nice families, only to secretly wonder over and over again: “why am I unhappy?”
So why are so many of us unhappy, despite our seemingly perfect lifes? I believe we are unhappy, because we live in a constant fight to get an “A”. The only problem: once we’re out of the classroom, we become the only ones who can award ourselves that top grade. But in our quest for approval from the world, we forget to look at our own priorities and ask ourselves: “what criteria are important to me?”.
Good students have a hard time at finding happiness. We keep waiting for someone on the outside to tell us that we’re doing well. But as we do, we forget to gain approval from the people that matter most: ourselves. It’s only by escaping the notion we have to please the imaginary teacher and setting your own standards that we reclaim control and rediscover our paths. The good news? Once we do that, we can finally ace life.