Joy Is Practical

Last Sunday, as spring break came to a close and I had to pack up for my return, I realized that I was leaving the sun and comfort of vacation for rainy Andover, Massachusetts. I was returning to the work and late nights, to double periods and All-School Meetings. And I asked myself, “Why do I do it?” Why do all eleven hundred kids do it? Why do we put ourselves through the daily grind, week in and week out? During my first few months here at Phillips Academy, I would have said that for me, it stemmed from an almost obsessive fear of failure. It is a feeling not unfamiliar to any one of us, for at one point or another we have all fallen victim to its anxiety. Yet in my case, I was so strongly attached to the pursuit of perfection that anything short of that was not an option. I found that my motivation came not from the desire to achieve but from fear, the fear of not living up to my own pre-conceived, high standards. In a step towards maturity, however, I soon discovered through my experiences and those of others that this is an unhealthy mindset. First of all, my preoccupation with avoiding failure ironically put failure at the center of my attention. Though I was able to avoid complete academic breakdown, this continuous self-contradiction did nothing but put me under more stress, which ultimately worked against me. Moreover, the inherent negativity of my thoughts carried over from my academic pursuits to other areas of my life here at Andover. For example, because I was always focused on the negative, I soon found that I was doubting myself on the athletic front as well, and I did not see the results I expected of myself. In addition to reinforcing stress and negative thoughts, my fear of failure as a motivation to succeed removed virtually all of the joy there was in learning. Instead of focusing on how to best grasp the material, I concerned myself with how to get good grades. It was as if I went to class for my GPA and nothing else. After a while, the importance of the grade transcended the value of the knowledge on which I was missing out. Consequently, I was not retaining what I had been taught, and I did not learn as much. As winter vacation rolled around and I began to reflect on the fall term, I realized how unproductive and ultimately detrimental my outlook had become. I thought back to April of last year when I decided to come to Andover. It was not that I wanted to stand out or impress anyone. I came here because I wanted to learn. I came in order to uptake a passionate pursuit of knowledge unparalleled at any other secondary school. And in my time here, brief as it may be, I have found the undeniable joy in this pursuit. As a result, the grades have followed. That is not to say that it was easy. With hard work and a real appreciation for knowledge beyond the classroom, however, success is within reach. Nonetheless, I myself am far from perfect. I realize that I have not completely separated myself from my preoccupation with grades as a measure of academic success, yet each and every day I strive to improve. I share my experiences above because I know that I am not alone. Whether it be from parents or ourselves, we all feel a certain amount of pressure to do well, and in that, we overlook what’s really important. We lose sight of the true value of our education. Jack Sykes is a new Lower from New York, NY.