Remove yourself from the ever-present competition

The first graded essay that I ever handed in at Harvard-Westlake got a B-. My short, awkward seventh-grade self quietly stared at what I thought was a definite sign of my failure as I began to lose any shred of hope that I had for surviving at a school with a larger than life reputation. All was lost until I looked around. Everyone else had received a B- or a B and the teacher told us that, over time, our grades would improve. Prior to that moment, I had never compared myself directly to other kids, holding close the idea that everyone was different and excelled at different things. Now, I had suddenly and unknowingly been tossed into the infamous Harvard-Westlake competition.

 It’s impossible to not be at least a little competitive in this kind of environment.

It’s not something the administration induces directly, but it’s partly due to its actions (or lack thereof) towards particular policies or situations like the unfair disparity between the levels of difficulty of different teachers teaching the same subject. Some students are propelled by this competition as they feed off of it, happy to grind away on a pile of coursework. Some of us may pretend that the competition creates some kind of feeling of community, but I can’t count the amount of times I’ve asked someone for a study guide and have simply received a small, pointed “no.”

Witnessing people pull continuous all-nighters and show up to school with eyes glazed over and a shaky hand holding a cup of coffee, the realization that I couldn’t keep comparing myself to others hit me.

Slowly, I began to stop asking people what they got on the test, and instead I started to meet with my teachers one-on-one and talk through grades I received. I became an individual, but my grades were still not ideal. Why would I keep getting a B+ on most of my essays? Did this mean I was simply a B+ student?

The key, I found, was a balance between the two. Realizing I was not alone in my unsatisfactory essay grades was helpful, but I made sure not to ask for the GPA of someone applying to the same college I was. We have to realize that we go to an extremely difficult school where we will not always get A’s, but we can’t compare ourselves to someone who has led a different life and has different struggles. In a sense, we’re getting what we asked for.