I feel like there’s a lot of pressure for people our age to do something unheard-of and spectacular to get anywhere in life. This unsaid social requirement pounds against my skull nearly every waking hour of the day. I’d like to be able to just be young, do what I love and enjoy my life, but it’s hard to breathe when it seems like most other bright and capable teenagers are superman. Some sixteen-year-old boy in another state is winning awards for scientific genius, while another is starting a unique and successful charity, and another has her photography published in newspapers. I recently read an article about one of my classmates concerning the basketball fundraiser she’s created to fund cancer research, due to her experience with cancer several years ago. It was inspiring at first to read about her amazing story and efforts, but then the article went a little something like “while most teenagers are worried about grades and summer jobs, Caite is focused on helping others.”
That pissed me off, for many reasons.
For one, the phrasing of that sentence makes it seem as if she’s impossibly compassionate and dedicated. I know Caite, I see her every day, and while she does dedicate much of her time to this cause, she’s also a human being. She worries about her math test and laughs with friends and goes shopping for prom dresses just like any “normal” girl our age. She’s doing amazing things, but she’s also doing normal things. I think that distinction is incredibly important to make.
Secondly, is there anything wrong with worrying about grades and summer jobs? I am a junior in high school. I am not financially independent. I’m not quite sure what I want to do with my life. In my opinion, my main concern right now is getting through school and trying my best. This time of my life is meant to be the time where I figure things out and pave the path of my future. As a teacher of mine used to say, I am a “full-time professional student.” I would really like to be just that, but I am constantly being bombarded with the overwhelming feeling that I have to make a name for myself at this age.
While I’m studying for an AP bio test, I find my thoughts straying to charity work and plans for finishing that novel I’ve started. When I pick up my camera, I feel like I’m taking the pictures for someone else to notice and appreciate and buy. My art has become impersonal, tailored to the tastes of the masses. My transcript is exemplary, but I feel as if I’ve learned nothing. I am a robot trying desperately to make myself interesting for colleges and employers and talent scouts and I hate it. It makes my head hurt.
Because I am a human being who’s just trying to figure it out, like everyone else in the world. I don’t have to be superman. I’d sure like to start a charity or publish a novel or run a marathon or cure cancer or open a business before I turn twenty, but I don’t have to. I probably won’t. I probably won’t be spectacular or famous or distinguished. I want to change people’s lives, sure, but at this point I can hardly get through the school day without exploding from anxiety and stress.
I greatly admire my friends who have already dedicated their lives to charity work or composing music or photojournalism. They’re saving lives and getting into Juilliard and being published in papers. I am just trying to keep myself afloat. Maybe some day I’ll be the sort of person who does yoga at sunrise, volunteers in soup kitchens in the evenings and teaches creative writing classes on Saturdays. But today I am letting myself be average.