This I Believe

Sarah - Lafayette, California
Entered on December 6, 2006

I believe in having perspective. I believe in the whole painting being more important than the brushstrokes. I believe in the forest, not the trees.

High school is four years of trauma, of stress, of homework late into the night and of embellishing transcripts. Hundreds of thousands of students, every year, shell out countless dollars on SAT courses and AP exams; they fill their schedule with impressive classes, stress, cry, and take anti-depressants as they fill out applications to Ivy League schools. They throw themselves into leadership programs, go to Mexico to build houses, and pack their free time with extracurriculars. Four years, and yet how many of them stop to think about whether the four crammed years are worth the college they ultimately go to?

Or take the teachers who guide these same students through those four years. Busy work is the name of the game: worksheets, drills, exercises, rote memorization and test after test after test. Amid the paper flood, we all lose sight of the horizon we ought to be reaching—that we ought to be learning and comprehending what’s given, not cramming it into our brains to get the highest A possible.

What happens when we get so caught up obsessing over the little details? We forget to take a step back and see the picture as a whole. I’m as guilty as the rest of my peers of worrying too hard about my grades, my classes, and my impressiveness factor; it’s not something I’m proud of. I have to remind myself to back away and look at what these minute details mean within the scope of my life.

In twenty years, it won’t matter what grade I got on my chemistry test. No one will care how many AP classes I took at once. It won’t impress a single person if I was the best in my class at French. What will matter is how well I learned to communicate through writing—it will matter how well I learned to filter information into what is useful and what is not—it will matter how well I learned to create solutions to difficult problems. It’s too easy for us to worry about the future and forget about the now; if I go to Harvard and get a PhD, is that enough to replace the fleeting time I had in high school to really, honestly enjoy myself?

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean we should be hedonistic to the point of irresponsibility. But my life won’t be a resounding failure if I don’t go to Harvard, and I won’t be living in a cardboard box if I’m not the class valedictorian. Why should I spend every inch of my free time filling out worksheets for a class that will ultimately never matter? I’d rather learn to ballroom dance with my friends and enjoy myself while I have the chance.

If I died tomorrow, the greatest shame would be that I had lived a life measured in insignificance. I believe in remembering the long run: I believe in finding perspective.