This I Believe

Elliott - San Ramon, California
Entered on July 26, 2007

I believe in myself. I believe in not worrying about what you should be doing based on what others are doing. For the longest time, I made it my business to know and do what others were doing. In end I succumbed to what others thought was right, and my original ideas and standards were twisted beyond recognition.

When I began attending a new high school starting in sophomore year, a common phrase I had not heard of at my old school was “beat the system.” It meant, for example, taking calculus as a freshman, enrolling in an Advanced Placement class for juniors as a sophomore, and other daring feats of “system beating” all of which, mind you, involved getting A’s in classes and 5’s on AP exams. What could I do but join in the frenzy? In order to beat the system, it became my business to ensure that I was keeping up with everybody, that nobody did any activities without me one-upping them. I had to know exactly what everyone was doing and factor it into my master plan! If my friends were memorizing my student identification so they could check up on my supposedly confidential grades, why shouldn’t I memorize theirs? Well…I did.

Before tests, I would obsess over everyone else’s grades. After tests were given back, I would obsess over their new grades. I based my standards on everyone else’s. If I struggled on a test, and the laziest and most care-free classmate told me he did “good,” I’d become a nervous wreck and run the “damage control” simulation over and over. Exactly what percentage could I afford to get to still get an ‘A’ in the class? Assuming I got a 95% on the next five tests, how much would my grade go up? I would sit down and beg my friends to send me their essays, seeing as how I wouldn’t dream of turning in anything written unless I’d checked it with two or three other essays. There was an enormous, but unnecessary, academic pressure resting on my shoulders. As school dragged on, the atmosphere among everybody was charged with competition. If somebody asked me how to do a question, I would always respond with an “I don’t know.” It was perfectly logical: if I had answered their question, they might have gotten ahead of me in studying!

This habit was bearable, albeit embarrassing, up until our finals came. My tension after the first few difficult tests even manifested itself in the form of respiratory problems (that not-so-strangely disappeared after the last day of school). As my shaky finals week finally ended, I realized I didn’t want to obsess over everyone else’s grades like they obsessed over mine. It was embarrassing when all my friends would know I did poorly on tests, but I didn’t need to see them do poorly as well to make myself feel confident. Staying up till 3 a.m. worrying about my class standing wasn’t worth it. Today, I still ask how others are doing to get a good bearing of how I’m doing, but I believe in my own goals and not adopting everyone else’s. I believe in myself as the ultimate source of my beliefs and ambitions.