The Guilt of Endings

I was sitting in English class when my teacher asked us one of his daily questions of the day: “What is a phrase that represents something that you wish you knew after a few weeks of being at Andover?” I answered, “Striving for excellence through continuing what is familiar to you, what you know you can do well, is worth nothing if you don’t enjoy what you are excelling at.” Although I gave this answer, entering into my second term at Andover, I still struggle to follow this advice. Before I came to Andover, I dabbled in a lot of different areas of interest: sports, instruments, academic clubs. I dropped some of them on my journey through middle school, kept some, and revisited others temporarily. I never stressed about becoming uniquely excellent at something and making it mine. I simply continued the things that I felt most passionate about, even if I wasn’t the best at it.

However, since coming to Andover, I’ve felt a certain guilt that I didn’t master the subjects or activities that I tried at a young age. I’ve felt guilty for changing my mind. I’ve felt guilty for wanting to try different things, even though in many ways Andover promotes a culture of exploration. A constant weight lingers on me: “Would I be just as commendable and gifted as the kid I see performing on stage, the kid I see in Math 650, if I had just practiced more and studied harder? Could that have been me?” Though one might not see it on the surface, due to the social and academic pressure to constantly progress and excel, Andover engenders a feeling of guilt about choosing to discontinue one pursuit and starting another later down the line.

At Andover, everyone seems to have mastered a skill. You hear about the people taking the AMC 12, in 9th grade, and people who are breaking records and qualifying for Junior Olympics before even arriving at Andover. When you are surrounded by people who exude brilliance and mastery, it’s easy to feel inferior and blame yourself for lacking those qualities. You start to focus on what would have been if you had put more time and effort into the interests you had begun to delve into as a kid. With this mindset, you lose sight of what could be with the newfound pursuit you are undertaking now, or the one you are still searching for. Everyone appears to have something to show for themselves, something exceptional, and we continuously compare ourselves to these, or what we believe to be, success stories. It is easy to conclude that it is our shortcomings and idle behavior that causes our inadequate abilities. Thus one feels regretful that they did not do enough in the past to have their own success story, to have our own praiseworthy talent.

Furthermore, the pressure to choose a skill and hone it till you are the best at it disincentivizes beginning unfamiliar ventures. Being a virtuoso or a genius takes time; perfecting a craft takes years of constant practice and experience. By the time you are in highschool, many of your classmates have thoroughly grasped the mechanics of their unique skill, and simply aim to further it by coming to Andover. Compared to the people who started refining their interest at four or five years old, starting a new pursuit at fourteen or fifteen years old can seem rather pointless. You think to yourself: “Is it worth starting a new skill, when I am not going to be nearly as good as the people who have been doing it for their whole life?” You start to lose sight of what you want to do, what you enjoy doing, and pressure yourself to continue what you are best at in the current moment.  One doubts the worth of enjoyment if it doesn’t come along with something you can put on a college application, something that makes you stand out. 

Andover is a school where the top students are admitted from all parts of the world. It is inevitable that one is going to be surrounded by students who are geniuses or virtuosos, or who excel at what they do. However, we must remember that it is acceptable to not have everything figured out before coming to Andover, to not have chosen your main sport yet, or your main excurricular club. It is perfectly normal to not have your life figured out as a high school student. In striving to be the best, I try to remember that perfection and continuation isn’t all that matters. I choose to pursue the clubs that I enjoy the most, valuing the time and energy spent in activities that I relish, rather than measuring the worth of my chosen endeavor through the amount of years that I have previously spent on it. If you are going to continue an activity for a long period of time, you should enjoy it. In turn, it won’t feel like a burden to commit time to it and hone it. So don’t be afraid to start a new pursuit when you enter high school, because it might turn out to be a decision you won’t regret.