A Measure of Worth

What is failure? In light of recent board turnovers, prefect selections, student council elections, college decisions and other such mind-numbing, hand-wringing, sob-inducing events, the true definition of that elusive word has been brought to my attention. So to satisfy my curiosity, I turned to a dictionary (always handy in times of uncertainty). According to Mr. Webster, “failure” is defined as “a lack of success.” So that leads me to another question. What exactly is success? My senses have been working in overdrive since the onset of spring term. Processing the spectrum of emotions being displayed around me—Seniors finally whipping out that college sweatshirt they’ve been waiting to show off, or the sound of Uppers screaming in the hallway as they learn of their newly bequeathed leadership position—really is a lot of work. Their eyes seem to be saying, “You have much to learn, young grasshoppers.” And sometimes I find myself nodding my head in agreement. Those sights and sounds are certainly tempting. But while I am usually able to catch myself before I am hurled into the rat-race of this skewed definition of success, I find that it takes a tremendous effort to remain removed from the seemingly enticing realms of achievement. Two weeks ago, selections for next year’s prefects were announced. Although I did not apply (a year surrounded by squealing freshman girls? Not for me), a number of my friends did, and the nervous energy preceding that day was enough to make me feel uneasy. And like in any situation where one must fill out an application and have an interview, there’s always a chance of rejection. A prefect is (or rather, should be) someone to look up to, a person of spotless character. An Obi-Wan to a ninth grade Anakin (pre-Dark Side, that is). Or, if George Lucas isn’t your thing, a Sirius Black to a freshman Harry Potter. So I understand how hard it is not to take it personally when someone else is chosen over you. That little voice in the back of your head that usually assures you of your worth and fuels your ambitions may give in a little and say with a sigh, “Just face it. He is better than you. You might as well give up.” It’s difficult not to listen to that little voice and admit failure. And I’m sure many Seniors would agree that the college admission process can be demoralizing at times for the same reason. Here you are, putting your life out for scrutiny. Choosing what words you wish to define yourself with. Compartmentalizing each aspect of your high school career into predetermined categories: extracurricular activities, sports, hobbies, interests, talents. The list goes on. Once you’ve done that, you have no other choice but to seal it in an envelope, mail it and leave it to an unfamiliar admissions officer (who knows nothing about you except for what you’ve presented to him in said envelope), who will then present you with either success or failure. But while they can decide whether or not your words fit the exact quota they’re looking for (which, in this day and age, is unlikely unless you started your own non-profit at the age of six and are one-third Native American), they cannot decide your success or failure, unless you let them, that is. Because when it comes down to it, that person in the interview room, the one with the neat shirt and pressed pants, that is not you. You are more than that nervous handshake and rehearsed spiel about the time you spent volunteering in Rwanda to improve the living conditions of underprivileged women. These college admissions officers and house counselors and other such figures of authority who hold the power to grant you such “successes” aren’t there to see the everyday you, which could very well be more profound than your shrink-wrapped, image-preoccupied self. These people judging you aren’t there when it really matters. They don’t know about the intricacies of your self, the self that exists beyond the 500 word essay, the SAT scores and carefully crafted appearances. So that obnoxious girl who is best friends with the club president got the board position instead of you. So you didn’t get prefect or a position on student council. So you didn’t receive admittance to your dream school. So basically, your life up to this point is a big, fat failure. Or is it? In the end, your failure or success is up to you to decide, and nobody else. It’s decision time. You can decide to let others define success for you or you can do it for yourself. Frankly, I believe having the strength to do the latter is success in itself. Michelle Ma is a two-year Lower from Walnut, California.