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In The Name of Success

Luke Smillie

America is an achievement culture that measures educational success by virtue of standardized tests, AP courses, and GPAs. It takes what makes a person special and unique, and turns these qualities into a number to be scrutinized. Growing up is a race to the finish line, and along the way people are measured, judged and compared all by the same yardstick of standardized testing.

Our society compartmentalizes people, taking away their individuality and sense of self. Religion, government and corporations all insist on conformity to a singular materialistic ideal, and promote the idea that there exists only one path to the one definition of success. This homogeneous construct in our society holds people back from being able to think for themselves.

The problem with an achievement culture originates from people being obsessed with success defined entirely by material wealth and perfection. We win a silver medal and are disappointed because it’s not gold. Too many measure success only by someone’s income and look at success as a far-off picture rather than something in the present.

Even small children are not immune to the pressures set by our society. For instance, when I was little, I skipped preschool and went sailing around the world with my parents. When I got back to school, the teachers told my parents that I was behind and that they were worried I wouldn’t be able to catch up with the other kids in my grade. Meanwhile, I had had the opportunity to travel around the world and see cultures and people that very few five-year olds get to see; and yet, when I started kindergarten I was told at the age of five I was behind purely because of my grades.

The fact that you can be behind in something at that age is questionable. In the Bronx, for example, on Feb. 17, 2000, a 10-year-old hung himself, his homework lying at his feet and a suicide note left for his sister. The note said he was sorry for his bad grades and his poor report card.

Grades shouldn’t exist for a 10-year-old. At that age, children should be focusing on learning to think, building character and developing empathy as they begin to understand the world in all its wonder. They should learn about and enjoy life without the pressure or the need to succeed and achieve. Without the pressure to hit a number that is set to judge and define you.

Too many Americans have a preconceived notion of what their life has to be because of this achievement culture. They are brought up with this ideology that there are already steps laid out for them to attain success and that, to get to where they want to be in life, they have to follow these steps.

When you finish college and are looking for a job, the number one thing that employers look for is someone who has character, who is a critical thinker and who is unique. Under the standard American education system, there is little opportunity for someone to discover what makes them unique and talented. This proves just how ironic it is that people spend their whole lives sacrificing present happiness for limited future returns and goals.

Schools should teach kids to think for themselves and to be caring and giving members of our society. Instead, lots of students are brought up being taught that within our culture there is only one definition of a successful person and that they need to do everything with perfection so as to excel in this numbers game. There is no attempt to recognize individuality.

People are blindly driven to achieve without asking why and are fixed on an unattainable goal of success. Nothing is ever enough. Happiness is fleeting because you are trying to achieve success at all costs. Happiness, arguably one the most important things in life, is measured by your latest test score.

People give up present happiness to achieve future success, but their sacrifices in the end get them nowhere.

In fact their efforts inhibit their development into interesting and intellectual human beings. In this race to success, people take life for granted and neglect their friendships and relationships. They ignore love and empathy and focus instead on their work and nothing else. As life progresses, these people will wake up and realize their potential to live is gone. They will see how overrated the system of pressure within our society is and how they never enjoyed their limited time on this earth.

Especially here at Laguna Blanca, a hyper-competitive school where kids are obsessed with the idea of success and all that it entails, people lose track of what’s important.

The idea that you get through high school with good grades, get into a good college and spend the next four to six years of your life doing more school, finish the grueling college experience, become a lawyer or a doctor and finally start your path to being successful is an archaic and outdated way to live your life.

Too many people are so set on this one path to gain popularity and wealth that they forget to stop and enjoy life. Let’s say after going through all of this, dedicating your entire life to school and tests and essays, and nothing else, you get cancer and have two months left to live. What now?

You have been obsessed with the future your entire life. So focused on what’s next, on doing well that you never stopped to enjoy your accomplishments and live in the moment. You were never satisfied unless everything you did was perfect. Your very identity and sense of self was based off of your work ethic, your grades, what college you went to, what law firm you were working at and all for what? What was the purpose of your life?

Since the 50s, the American dream has been defined as a white picket fence lifestyle, where everyone has the quintessential symbols of success, a brand new car and a paycheck with six figures.

The American dream has become the American nightmare because it’s no longer achievable. Less than one percent of the country has the promise of the American dream; the rest  have been left in the dust. So what is the point of this achievement culture. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor.

Now this isn’t to say not to have goals for your life or not to strive to do well.  But at a certain point we have to let go and accept that we can’t control everything.  Achievement-driven millennials are on a quest to achieve without even understanding what they want from this world and who they want to truly become.

The idea of control in our lives is a fallacy. For example, once you have sent off your college apps, there is nothing more you can do; the admissions process is now in the hands of the college itself. You have done everything you can.

To stress out over whether or not you will get in isn’t worth it. It’s not in your control. People should take this idea and use it in their daily lives. Horrific and unfair things happen in this world and to be obsessed with this ironic definition of success can lead only to self-destruction. In fact, many people to try to deal with how stressed and pressured they are in their own lives, turn to alcohol and drugs as an escape.

They get high to escape their mind-numbing and repetitive lives and to trick themselves into thinking they are in control. All people have to do is step back, relax and get on with their life happily. People have to stop trying to control everything.

We need to be proud of what makes us special and unique, not just what is on our resume. We need to be more cognizant of how to “achieve” a state of grace as opposed to a state of wealth.

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