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Letter to the Stressed High Schooler

I remember everything about high school. I remember the after school sports practices, the cross country meets, the marching band rehearsals. The choir concerts, the All State auditions, the variety show and school musical. If you can’t already tell, I did a lot of things in high school. At my school, it is highly encouraged for students to be in as many activities as possible—to be in both sports and the arts, do Speech and Envirothon—the list goes on.

While it’s great to be well-rounded, this sometimes puts extra pressure on students.

I was running around from practice to rehearsal to music lesson every second of every day. And not only that, but I also felt a lot of pressure to be good at everything. I needed to get into All State choir, I needed to be running varsity on the cross country team, and I needed to get As in every class. Some of this pressure came from my directors, teachers, and coaches, while a lot of it was internalized expectations I had put on myself. Either way, it caused a lot of stress that, looking back, I didn’t really need to worry so much about.

I am now about to begin my senior year of college. If there is one piece of advice I could give to students currently in high school, it’s this:

Almost all of the things you stress so much about now won’t affect you at all in four, two, or even one year. I promise.

Let’s take cross country, for example. Did I love running on the team? Yes. Did I want to do the best that I could do, and to know I put in the effort and reaped the rewards? Yes. But do my race times—or whether or not I ran varsity—matter to me at all now? No! I don’t run on the cross country team at college. I’m not pursuing running as a career. Running is still a part of my life, but not competitively. Running isn’t even something I got scholarships for or used on my college applications. I could have enjoyed running with my teammates and having fun at meets without being incredibly upset if I didn’t get the time I wanted, or feeling like I had failed if I didn’t make varsity. It doesn’t have any bearing on my life now.

Now, take something that I did continue to do in college: choir. I actually chose my college in part because of it’s excellent choirs, because music is incredibly important to me and I knew I wanted to continue singing in choir after high school. So in some ways, it does still affect me. But all the stress about All State auditions? All the competitiveness over who gets in and who doesn’t, and feeling like I wouldn’t be a true singer if I didn’t get in? Like I wouldn’t be respected as a musician if I couldn’t sing in that one particular choir because of one judge’s opinion? That literally doesn’t matter now! 

All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t try your best at everything you do.

It’s also not to say that you shouldn’t value the activities you do in high school even if you don’t plan to continue them in college. And things usually seem a lot more important while you’re in them, so it may be hard to look into the future and know how you’ll feel in a few years.

But as someone who is already there, a few years into the future, I just want you to know that if you don’t do well at that one meet or game, it’s okay. If you don’t get that part in the musical you really wanted, it’s okay. Of course it will hurt in the moment. And you’re allowed to be upset! But don’t let it dictate your self worth. Don’t let it define you. Because there are so many things you will go on to do that will be incredibly rewarding. You don’t even know all the opportunities that are waiting for you down the road. You are going to learn and grow in ways you can’t even imagine. I know sometimes it feels like the end. But trust me: it is only the beginning.

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