One month into the seventh grade, I auditioned on a whim, with no prior experience, for the part of Rizzo in the fall musical, “Grease,” only to come out laughing at myself (with no role) having learned a lesson that has stuck with me since: The Harvard-Westlake community strives for excellence in every aspect of school life from the expectations the teachers set in the classroom to the quality of the performing arts productions.
This fact has never been more obvious to me than it is now. After almost six years here, I’ve grown accustomed to the fixation on success that permeates school life, yet it seems more pronounced than ever. I am constantly told junior year is the final stretch — that how hard I work and the decisions I make will either make or break me.
It was not until a recent class that I realized my definition of excellence had become dictated by others. One of my teachers asked a group of students to demonstrate their skills in front of the class and said that this was the high level at which all of us should be.
In 45 minutes, the class I had taken for the pure joy of it and had depended on as the rare escape from the stress of simply having to do well had become one more expectation to fulfill.
Over the years, both of my parents have made very clear to me what success meant to them, and what it must mean to me: the more prestigious the college, the better. For a while, it was their way or the highway, and it was not easy to distinguish what I wanted to accomplish from my eagerness to make them proud.
I am absolutely here because I want excellence for myself, and it is only obvious that teachers would expect it too. But I personally take issue with the fact that the excellence I strive for is too often defined by others — the grade, the award, the win, the applause.
It’s so easy to forget that success is not defined one-dimensionally, especially in a school where everyone is constantly succeeding. But my idea of success does not have to mirror or match someone else’s.
Success does not have to be an A or a college acceptance, though it can be. Sometimes success is just making it through a difficult Monday or having a great conversation with a friend.
Only you decide what success means to you, because you are the one in charge of your life and the decisions that you make. No one else should dictate what your goals are.
My definition of excellence, whatever minimal or meaningful goal I want that to be, should not be decided by the expectations or accomplishments of others. At the end of it all, all we can really do is our best, and to me, that will always be enough.