July 9, 2011 High School Superstar Turned College Underachiever?
“Wow, we come from vastly different academic backgrounds,” said Ian, my fellow summer intern, at lunch.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter anymore now that we’re here, does it,” I replied. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the statement was mostly aimed at myself.
If I dare say so myself, I was a high school superstar. I consistently got the highest grades in almost all of my classes, many of them AP, throughout high school, taking home the top student award every year from grade 9 to 12. I was on the debate team, was a member and later a coach of the math team, served on student council, and was involved in numerous other extracurricular organizations. I painted and designed murals and other things for my school. I volunteered. All the teachers and principles knew me and loved me. I took and won math and science competitions. I only lost 10 points total on my SAT’s, including 3 SAT subject tests. And to finish off such a high school career, I was my class valedictorian, the winner of the Governor General’s Award, and got accepted to Columbia University. And all of a sudden, none of that mattered anymore.
And I was okay with it. After all, I was expecting to be just average at a school like Columbia. I still got good grades, perhaps even better grades than I had anticipated. But I can’t help but feel like an underachiever at times. Like when I barely get above average grades on an organic chemistry midterm. Or when I lose a prestigious summer internship to someone who wasn’t even chosen as a finalist. Or when I’m home, looking at the bookshelf in the study that’s filled with my plaques, certificates, medals, and trophies from high school. Sure, next year my Columbia diploma will join their ranks, and maybe that alone is a bigger accomplishment than all the rest of them. But still, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’ve been somehow under-performing since I graduated from high school.
Maybe it’s simply the fact that, at this point in the game, you don’t get gold stars anymore for a job well done. A nice looking GPA and the words “Dean’s List” on your online student account just doesn’t feel as great as a big ceremony with presentations and plaques. And nobody really cares about your nice internships or leadership roles when everyone else has the same or even better ones. I understand all that, and I accept all of it, but why do I still feel like such a loser sometimes?
I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and I think I’ve come to a good conclusion. It has to do with losing sight of my goals. In high school, my goals were clear: get top student in physics class, get at least a 2300 on my SAT, get into a great college. I knew what I wanted and I knew what I had to do to get it. But now that I’m at Columbia, things have been different. I thought I knew what I wanted (to become a doctor), but along the way I encountered things that made me unsure. And so I’ve decided to become undecided, to just stay in the moment and focus on right now. But you know what? That doesn’t work for me. That’s not how I operate. I can’t focus on studying organic chemistry when I don’t see how it will contribute to a concrete goal. I just can’t. Recently I realized that what I need is something to work towards, something I really want, something that is going to motivate me and re-energize me. I miss the feeling of having a goal to work towards, and the rush of happiness when I know that my hard work has paid off. The reason why I feel like I’ve been underachieving is simply because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be achieving in the first place.
I’m not good at being undecided. It agitates me, worries me, and ultimately renders me apathetic and void of motivation. So this is what I need: a goal, a goal I truly believe and want to invest my time an energy in. By the end of the summer, I hope to have gained enough experience to make that choice with confidence. It’s high time I set my mind to something and just work for it. Because it’s only then that I truly feel like a superstar, even if no one else recognizes me as one.