It’s that time of the year— AP night, when numerous options of classes are available and accompanied by the stress of not knowing which to take. As a high school student, it’s hard to imagine what I want to do for the rest of my life. Heck, I remember being asked where I wanted to go to college the day I left middle school. In sixth grade, our school counselor had our class go to a computer lab, and with guidance, we all created a college account of some sort. From there, we were instructed to take a test to see our interests, and the test results were what was considered our best career fit. I know adults want us to have an idea of our goals, but what if we simply do not know? As an 11-year-old, how was I able to make a such a serious decision that will affect the rest of my life?
Teachers want us to start thinking about careers from a young age, and I completely understand that. It's to fuel our dreams, but dreams can become burdens. Like when I was younger, I wanted to be a professional dancer when I grew up, but I was too scared to say it out loud in fear of the adults who would shut it down as "impractical." And so, when the career I secretly wanted didn’t make it onto the recommended careers list, it weakened my self-confidence. Four years later, I’m still stuck in the same situation. I don't know what I want to do with my life. And yes, I do have something at the back of my mind, but I don't plan to speak about it until I’m certain.
You see, people have expectations, and that’s probably what I’m most afraid of. So, I set the bar high up, and I’m always working to be the best I could be. But when something doesn’t turn out as expected, a part of me sulks, and I’ll start over again from scratch, determined to do it right the next time.
I was an egotistical child, always praised by my grandparents who spoiled me endlessly. When all that was gone, I was left with my parents, who I wasn’t close to, so I felt pressure to be better for them, to look good for them, to be the perfect child. And living in an Asian household, only your flaws are pointed out. A part of this is due to the concept of keeping what’s good and fixing the bad. So I don't reveal my dreams because if I fail to do what I’ll say I’ll do, I would be ashamed.
Attending AP night didn't help my situation. I don’t know what I want to major in just yet, much less the college I want to attend. And since you can get some sort of college credit with AP classes, you want to take classes that will help you in the long run, but looking at the list of classes my school offered at my school, I decided to pick the ones that interested me the most. I wanted to prove to everyone that I could accomplish my dreams in no time with the right amount of effort. So under this pressure, I convinced myself to apply for six AP classes, hoping I could take at least five of them.
Then, I consulted my upperclassmen friends about it, and they strongly advised me not to do so. I’ve had five seniors tell me no in one day. I’ve had so many people tell me that this is a terrible idea. I’ve had so many people tell me I was not going to get sleep. Days afterward, I still have people privately reach out to me, advising me on what I should do or not do. And I wouldn’t listen to any of it. I’ve lied to myself that I could handle it, that it will all pay off in the end. I lied to myself enough to the point where I was so determined to do what I had planned to do that it wasn't until I talked to my Spanish teacher about it that I realized how stupid I was being.
Weeks before AP night, I had been questioning whether or not I was ready for AP Spanish. Feeling like a failure in Chinese, my mind was set on proving myself worthy of mastering a different language. In the end, I came to the conclusion I will take the class next school year, even if I will struggle just a bit.
But on AP night, my mom spoke to my teacher about it. My teacher mentioned how I was an excellent student, how I was great at everything — except when it came to speaking. That right there was what I was afraid of, and what made matters worse is the fact that I already knew. I was already aware of my weak points, but I didn't want them to hold me back. I spoke to her about it the day after, and she said that I needed to wait a year before I’m ready. I know deep down that she's right, but I felt a bit rejected inside. All the built-up pressure rushed out of me, and I actually broke down in front of her.
It took awhile for the tears to dry up, and she reassured me. I told her the truth of how uncertain I am of everything. She gave me advice: take things easy. She explained that she knows and understands. Apparently, she’s seeing more and more of this recently — students with high anxiety issues and stress from all of this pressure. That made me realize that I'm not alone when it comes to taking too much onto my plate.
Although all this isn’t what I wanted, it did clear up my mind. It was then when I realized that I was so caught up in the number of AP classes I want to take, so caught up in trying to look good in front of everyone else, that I didn’t even consider my personal needs. I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to do well with five AP’s, along with band and color guard. I knew that I with five AP’s, I was going to have six rigor courses in one year. But looking at it now, it all just seems a bit childish. Pressure does a lot to people, and in a world where everyone’s competing against one another, you want to look the best and be the best.
So after rethinking it all, I decided to limit the number of AP classes I was going to take. Although going from five to four doesn’t seem like much of a big difference, I believe it will be better for me in the long run. As someone who is constantly stressed, I believe it will help challenge me just enough while not being too much to push me over the edge of meltdowns. Although it will be a challenge going from two AP classes this year to four next fall, I know I’ll be able to handle things a bit better due to the lessons I’ve learned so far.
I learned that it's important to not put so much pressure on yourself. I feel like a hypocrite saying this because that’s what I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. The difference this time is that I realized that there are two types of pressure — one for self-improvement and one to fit in with others’ expectations. There is always room for improvement, but when you’re doing it for validation from other people, that crosses the line. Before you do something, ask yourself: if you are going to do it, do you really want it? What is the main reason behind all of it? Are you truly passionate, or are you doing something because your friends are?
And who knows? Perhaps you might learn to love what you hate, and vice versa. Perhaps you can't find or reach what you truly want. Perhaps your destination is not where you want it to be. But I’m a strong believer in being the best that you can be, and I strongly believe that one should work hard for their goals. There are so many options out there in the world, so many career paths that we're unfamiliar with and so many opportunities we’re scared to take.
The entire process is slow, and results don’t show in a day. But if we could pace ourselves, then that will be our personal sweet success. As I've learned, trying your best will forever be better than regretting. As Jerry Corstens said:
“Don’t compare your progress with that of others. We all need our own time to travel our own distance.”