To me people believe that excellence is what we aim to achieve — something we can reach when we overcome incredible obstacles during our lifetimes. This supposition is false for many reasons. Excellence should not be viewed as the end goal; rather, excellence defines the journey. It is the motivation to succeed and not just the reward. We are taught that improvement comes from hard work and dedication, and that with practice comes perfection. This notion makes it easy to view excellence as a goal or reward that is bestowed upon us for simply putting forth a strong effort. But this view is short-sighted and can incentivize people to cease their efforts once a goal is achieved. True excellence reveals itself when one practices something for enough time and effort until he has accomplished something considered great and then starts over again and builds from this preconceived idea of the “finish line.” Excellence is a mindset.
With rare exception, humans are vulnerable creatures. I believe that to become excellent, one must first embrace his vulnerabilities and then use them as an advantage. I consider myself somewhat confident and yet reluctant to put forth my best work in all aspects of life for fear of being seen as a “try hard” or someone with “no life.” It seems ridiculous to fear something that can be overcome by simply disregarding the opinions — whether positive or negative — of my peers, but the truth is that I, like so many others, care about what other people think. Regardless of how many times I have convinced myself otherwise, the truth remains clear that human beings are vulnerable. I am no exception. My own vulnerability has hindered me from exceeding the expectations I set for myself, dealing with difficult situations, living without fear of judgement, and most importantly, achieving what I define as excellence.
It has always been apparent to me that I lacked the ability to “be myself,” but I had never chosen to confront and embrace this realization until recently. During my first few weeks at Andover, I chose to present a superficial version of myself and, at times, to mask insecurities and avoid judgment and poor initial impressions of my peers. I remained relatively quiet and nonchalant in and out of class, in the dorm, and at meals. I took on the role of someone who did not seem to care, and I embraced an insouciant attitude towards schoolwork in order to prove that I “had a life” besides academics.
One night as I was lying in bed, it occurred to me that I was eager to work harder, to show everyone my full capabilities. I was fatigued from my anxiety of how others would view me if I fully put forth the effort and tried to rise to the occasion of being excellent. It was at this moment that I realized that people who have positive attitudes and embrace the very things that hold them back tend to succeed. I had assumed the role of a person who I wasn’t for too long; the truth was that I cared deeply about academics and sports, I coveted my interactions with others, and I missed home.
As time passed, I became more comfortable with my desire to succeed at Andover. I wanted to experience the feeling of achieving excellence through hard work and perseverance. I began to enjoy a higher level of class participation and concentration. Once I quenched my desire, I was exposed to a small glimpse of the power and freedom that came as a result of embracing my vulnerabilities. At that moment, I didn’t care if the student across the table thought I was a “smart-ass,” or if the student sitting beside me thought I was an “idiot” because I asked too many questions. I knew that as soon as the bell rang and my fellow students stepped out of the classroom, all judgment would be suspended. As a result, my grades and relationships with teachers strengthened. Thus began my personal journey for excellence at Andover.
For so long I lived in fear of being myself. As one of four students from Florida in a class of more than 200 students, I initially felt intimidated by the Andover environment. The overwhelming majority of the New England and New York cultures intimidated me, as I had never experienced anything like them before. I felt at a disadvantage because many of the students had known each other before attending Andover. I wasn’t comfortable altering my personality so that others with different backgrounds would be willing to “accept” it, yet this is what I did. Inside, I wanted to be myself and form relationships with other students who wanted the same. After some time, I made the conscious decision to embrace my own voice, and this led me to forge stronger relationships with friends and teachers at Andover.
Very few people achieve excellence all of the time in everything they do. But excellence can begin with finding avenues through which we can distinguish ourselves; this is often accomplished through pursuing endeavors that tap into our passions and commitment. There are hundreds if not thousands of students around the world with perfect grades, impressive records, and high standardized testing scores. As a result, students must find their own journey that distinguishes them from others who may otherwise appear identical to them on paper.
I have had invaluable experiences during my time at Andover. My time here so far has led me to believe that the best way to distinguish myself from others is to not only acknowledge my vulnerabilities, but to embrace and work with them. I have learned that it is important to feel embarrassed, praised, lonely, popular, depressed, joyful, eager, discouraged, and, most of all, vulnerable. A life without embracing vulnerability is one with limits. We can only reach our full potential and branch out from others like us if we make the choice to face our fears head-on. As the 2016-2017 school year comes to a close, we should reflect and acknowledge those times during the year in which we noticed a vulnerability that prevented our journey to excellence and did nothing about it.