First, some backstory. From a young age, I was learning accelerated material and pushing myself academically. My mom always taught me the importance of education, and my dad was a successful businessman and trader, so I grew up aspiring to have an exceptional academic career. I lived in a small, rural town in Indiana, so I had infinite time to study and read, and because my mom stayed at home she gave me many materials that I put to good use. I was able to enter kindergarten a year early because my school district allowed those born in August to test into kindergarten before they turned 5. Due to my school’s system, I had the opportunity to take a test to enter kindergarten early, so that’s what I did.
Now, being at least half a year younger than my peers while maintaining a title as the smartest kid in the class was something to be proud of, so as I got older, I did my best to maintain that status. It wasn’t until 4th grade that I struggled academically. I had just moved to Mexico, and trying to do schoolwork in a language I had never spoken before was tremendously challenging. I worked hard and eventually began to adjust to my new lifestyle. Then, my life took a 180. When Covid started, we decided to move back to the U.S. You can probably imagine how stressful the back-and-forth lifestyle is for a 5th grader. So, back in Chicago, as I entered 5th-grade online school, I attempted to ease back into the U.S. school system. I went to my neighborhood school because my mom didn’t know about academic centers and selective enrollment, and the academics were inferior to my previous ones, so I took a laid-back approach to my work in 5th and 6th grade, not knowing how much that habit would backfire on me.
I got a real shock when I entered an Options School in 7th grade. At first, I was excited, but what they didn’t include in the description was that I was signing up for two years of tortuous stress. The academics were much more advanced, and the homework was barely manageable. I was perpetually stressed, so much so that I fell into a mental state not unlike depression. The problem was I was putting in unnecessary effort on every assignment and constantly overachieving, which led to me staying up until one AM every night, which is not necessarily healthy for a kid. I tried to blame my stress on others, but I didn’t realize that I was my biggest tormentor.
I constantly felt this need to be the best and get 100 in every class. I never acknowledged how much I was pressuring myself, simply assuming I was stressed because of familial problems and the like. In 8th grade, when I was experiencing academic burnout, it hit me like a rock to the head. If I had just relaxed, I could have had a much better middle school experience. All things considered, if I could give my past self any advice, it would be this:
Dear Past Self,
I know you feel the pressure to be on top and have the best grades, but you’re in seventh grade. I mean, you have your whole life to stress and worry. Trust me, everything will turn out fantastic. Despite the hard times we face, we still achieve great things, like getting into our top school and getting the necessary grades to be accepted. Life will always be strenuous, especially school. To achieve your dreams, you must work hard and put in a lot of effort, but that doesn’t mean you have to burn yourself out. In the long run, relaxing and taking time to unwind from the stress of school will significantly assist you in achieving your goals. Staying awake until one AM every night to add another paragraph to a paper or reading another page will do nothing for your grades. It won’t give you any extra points in life. If anything, not paying attention to your needs could be detrimental to your health and academic career. Please take my advice when I say relax. Limit the time you spend on work and do what is necessary for a good grade, not what is necessary to get a 100 or above. Pay attention to your body’s needs and prioritize taking care of yourself. I guess what I’m trying to say is, and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this, everything will turn out fine. Truly, everyone is destined for great things, so for your physical and mental health, lay back. Please. It may not seem like it, but it could save you.
Your Future Self
Isabel Evans – Phillips Exeter Academy – DMSF Class of 2027