We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Dozens of times throughout the course of middle school, especially on days of exams, teachers would often advise us, “Don’t一.” Nothing, it was as if their words passed to me through a vacuum, devoid of vibrations and sound: utter silence. Their messages were not reaching me; It was being blocked out by my familial influences. 

I was born into the typical strict Asian household that expected nothing short of perfection. It became ingrained in me that everything from a 95 to 100 was the only acceptable grade, a 90 to a 95 was just a “meh” grade, and anything below 90 was failing. The result of this? The dreadful feeling of butterflies inhabited my stomach on exam days despite the countless hours I poured into studying and reviewing the material. When our assessments were handed back to us, seeing that “100” written across the top in with a “Great job!” was not a cause for celebration. Instead, these were moments when I breathed sighs of relief. I realize that these expectations were depriving me of that sense of achievement, and my world was becoming mundane as a result of it. Instead of confronting this problem, I would bottle it up and put it on the backburner. At the same time, I also recognized that these expectations were the way that my parents were showing their care and affection for me. It has always been their belief that sacrifices done now would pay far greater dividends later in my life, but my acknowledgement of their sincere belief also strayed me away from settling this problem. Thus, this unrelenting pressure and stress would continue to gnaw away at me. I would feel like I failed myself if I was not able to achieve a good grade. 

Stress steadily grew over the years, and eventually it overpowered this joyous, carefree facade that I had kept up. The night before the regional Science Fair, something happened. Like other tasks, I was expected to receive an exceptional grade and place well. I laid there, in bed, staring at the pitch-black ceiling, trying to get a good night’s rest for the upcoming day. It was at times like this that my mind would start to wander. Eventually, the pondering collided with my heavy load of stress. What followed was a mental meltdown. It was as if my stress overflowed like a dam overwhelmed by a flood, while the rest of my world began crumbling down. I started questioning the fabrics of my reality: What was the point of all this? Could I just stop trying and follow the flow of the world? How would the rest of the world view me if I started failing? It became a restless night that had me ponder the point of everything and consequences of certain actions. I wanted rest, both physically and mentally. I wanted a break from my expectations that I had to shoulder.

After hours of thinking, I finally reestablished my identity. I came to the realization that life’s destination is not determined by single events, but rather a compilation of events. As long as I tried my best, underperforming for a single event would not make or break my future and who I am. This single change in perspective relieved me of the burden I had accumulated. Of course, I would continue to strive for the best grades. Not because I had to, but instead as gratitude for my parents’ benevolent intent. I decided that I would try to live up to their expectations, but I would not stress over it. 

This epiphany felt like the beaming sun parting the clouds after a ruthless storm, revealing a clear, blue sky. My biased vision had finally subsided, and I started recalling the memories that I had corrupted. Throughout the years, teachers have frequently told us not to over stress about tests; that tests, in the long run, will have relatively little impact on our futures. “Don’t stress about it. No one is going to remember you for that one test 10, 20, or 30 years from now,” they would often say. The fog had subsided and I finally understood what people around me have always advised me. 

© Brian Chen. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.