By Helen Liu (V)

I have a very close relationship with my parents. I’m open to them about almost everything, and they encourage and support me. Ever since I can remember, they’ve been drilling the importance of hard work, compassion, and virtue into my head to make me the person I am today.

However, almost every month, we get into the same argument. Tired from a long week of school, I decide to destress a bit over the weekend by taking a couple of extra hours of free time. My parents will notice, and tell me, “You never have time to finish your extracurriculars during the weekdays. Why not catch up now?” They inevitably bring up how friends from other schools are spending six hours a day on homework. “Don’t you think you’re too relaxed?” they ask. “You’re in junior year. You should be working harder than this.”

It’s not just my parents that have this mentality. Sometimes, when I go to bed, I’m tempted to bring my laptop with me and outline that essay due in a couple of weeks. When we get school days off, I finish all my work by mid-afternoon, but end up spending the rest of the day strangely tense. Why do I have so much free time? Was there something assigned in class when I wasn’t paying attention? Is there a project I can plan out? Am I too relaxed?

The thing is, I’m fairly happy with how my junior year is going. When I was little, I was always told to “work hard and play hard,” and I think I’ve found a good balance of both working and playing. I’m managing my time a lot better than I have in the past, and I’m finding it easier to maintain decent grades while keeping up with other parts of my life. Maybe I could put a little more time into clubs, or study a bit harder in a class or two, but overall, I’m satisfied.

Why, then, is being “too relaxed” a bad thing? Is it lazy or irresponsible to take extra time to unwind and just mindlessly lose myself in a movie for a few hours if I’ve finished all my work for the day? I could use that time to start future assignments, but am I obligated to? It’s like there’s a set bar of stress that I must be above; if I’m not stressed enough, no matter how well I’m doing in school, I must work harder.

This mindset is far from uncommon. At Pingry there’s a constant pressure to get ahead. Some of us jokingly compete over who got the least amount of sleep the past night. Some of us take the hardest classes we can, even if we’re not actually interested in them because we’re warned of the drop in rigor on our transcripts. Since when has stress become the determining factor for success?

Theoretically, there isn’t really a limit to how much effort I could put into studying. I could stay up a few hours later into the night reviewing for a test in order to get that perfect score. I could decide to go over my essay a couple more times over the weekend instead of spending time with a friend.

If I did, though, what would be the point? Neglecting my happiness in order to better my chances of getting into a good university might be more “productive,” but personal experience has taught me that I’d end up regretting it. A few years ago, I prioritized school over my happiness and my best friends. During that time, I lost sight of why I was studying in the first place, and I don’t intend on making the same mistake again.

This isn’t to say that we should all stop studying hard. We should, however, be able to set achievable standards for ourselves––somewhere we can stop and say, “good enough.” If we’re all just trying to live a happy and fulfilling life, is throwing away all of our current happiness really worth it? At what point do we stop sacrificing our present for a so-called “better future?”