Throughout my whole time at high school, I was told that academic success was important. I was told that I was good at school and that it was key to my future success.
I was told this by my parents and I was told this by my teachers, until eventually it just became another fact in my reality.
As I hit my senior years the pressure started to mount and I started to falter. It no longer came naturally to me; I was working twice as hard to get half as good, and I was a bloody grump for it.
It was around this time that I began hearing and reading lots about the need to be more carefree in school–that we shouldn’t worry so much about getting a good ATAR because there were other ways to be successful and feel worthwhile. I hated it.
Of course, the irony is that I’m now a strong proponent of this kind of thinking and in fact regularly write about it. But at the time, I thought it was utter bullshit.
My family and I moved to Australia when I was two years old, and for migrants like ourselves, education was seen as the way to make the most of our new opportunity.
Say what you want about the politics and inequality that exists here, but there’s a level of wealth and comfort beyond what was possible in our home country, and it was now within our reach.
My parents wanted me to have a slice of that pie–why else would they have uprooted their lives and moved to a new country?
My parents did what they could to help me get there. They didn’t have connections in high places they could lean on to hand me an internship or work experience.
We didn’t have a nest egg or investment properties–we spent everything just to get here. My parents’ degrees weren’t even recognised in Australia, so they were working jobs that anyone could get while they saved to buy our own home.
So, they told me to study–to do well in school so I could get into uni and get myself a degree that would eventually land me a well-paying job. That was my ticket to make the most of our lucky county.
Of course, my situation wasn’t unique, nor was it the only set of circumstances that would lead a kid to believe that school was everything. There are those in families that have been here for generations that dream of being the first to go to university.
There are those that found their passion and won’t let anything stop them from pursuing it. Those that want to build better lives for themselves. Those that want to prove they can do it on their own.
For us, having a carefree attitude towards school is a damn privilege. Our aspirations have no fucking time for mediocrity and if we don’t care about them, no one will.
This kind of thinking propels us to accomplish great things, but it comes with a caveat. It’s really easy to get carried away and to care too much and this can eat away at every other aspect of your life.
It took me until the end of my second year at uni to realise it, but I was pretty damn unhappy despite my academic success. I felt isolated from friends, I wasn’t confident and thought little of my life experiences.
I had to take a step back and reassess. I took time off uni, I travelled, I moved out of home for the first time and started actually listening to the things that made me happy.
Consider this: your parents, your teachers, yourself–whoever it is putting pressure on you to succeed in school–wants you to do well but the end goal is happiness.
If you’re killing your happiness in order to succeed, then you’ve missed the point completely.
Conversely, if you’ve found happiness in things outside of conventional success, then congrats–you’ve eliminated the middle man and found a shortcut to the finish line.
Sure, it’s hard to be carefree about school, but it’s even worse to let stress get the better of you.