Focus on scores, being ‘the smart kid’ proves unfulfilling

Illustration by Erin Zhou

Illustration by Erin Zhou

Imra Tajudin and Mia Merchant

“Hey, can you help me with my math worksheet?” “You’re smart, did you do the science homework?” “Could you tutor me in geometry?”

As two kids often labeled “the smart one”, it’s nice to be needed for your brain, but oftentimes you don’t know what it’s like to feel truly wanted because of who you are, rather than what you can do for others. There is so much more to you than your intelligence, but you’re only known as “the smart one.”

While working hard in school is important, forming your life around your grades is unhealthy. In our case, in elementary and middle school, we built our reputations of being “intelligent” and “book smart” by only focusing on academics and forgoing our social lives. What we didn’t understand was that we were throwing away our childhoods for the sake of getting A’s, and studying instead of playing outside with our friends.

Because of these reputations, people around us began to set high academic expectations for us, and we therefore started to put more pressure on ourselves. We willingly started staying at home to study instead of interacting with other people, and as this pattern continued, we were invited to hang out less and less. Nothing else seemed more important than getting that A, and neither of us were able to escape this mentality.

This mentality is what oftentimes leads to high rates of anxiety and depression. The Harvard Medical School reports that one in four Harvard students reported being diagnosed with or treated for a mental health disorder in the 2017-2018 school year, 9% of students reported attempted suicides and 20% of students reported self-harm. Furthermore, according to the Boston Globe, the rate of suicide at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2015 was 12.5 per 100,000 students, compared to the national average on college campuses of 6.5 to 7.5 per 100,000 students.

These high rates of suicide and mental health issues are a result of not only the overwhelming pressure that universities put on students, but also the intense pressure students put on themselves to do well. This is the kind of pressure that we put on ourselves when we were younger, but we’ve come to understand that this is not a sustainable way to live and go about our lives.

When we got to high school, we realized that we didn’t have the social skills necessary to interact well with our peers. We also realized that we couldn’t manage social skills along with perfect grades, so we had to give up something. We would compare ourselves to others who managed to do both, even though many of them were living much less healthy lives than us. Eventually, we came to understand that grades aren’t the only things that matter: forming lasting friendships, learning about yourself, and happiness are much more important.

So our advice to you: life isn’t about getting an A in every class. It’s about working hard in the subjects that you care about,  and learning about and pursuing your passions because you want to, not because you feel like you have to. It’s about forming lasting friendships, loving who you are, and finding what makes you happy.