Monday, March 29, 2010

Achieve Less

I learned a lesson when I was 15 that I continue to forget, and remember, and forget, and remember. :)

I've always been a pretty hard worker especially at school. Did plenty of all-nighters even in grade school. High school started no differently. I got put in all honors classes due to my grades and my entrance test scores. I was pretty surprised by how well I did.

I didn't realize I could compete with so many people at getting good grades.

In fact, Sophomore year, I was with some students in the auditorium and to my surprise they awarded me a friggin' medal for the top GPA for freshman year. So all of a sudden Sophomore year, I realized I'm ranked #1. Absolute craziness. And this is where things start to turn.

Sophomore year sucked. I had my first AP class in Art History and Appreciation and I had an insanely hard time getting a good grade in that class. Above that class, work was starting to really pile up. And I still had extracurricular activities like volleyball every evening almost all year long.

I knew my grades weren't what they were Freshman year, and I could see a couple other kids were about to achieve a higher GPA that year, and I was stressed. The stress continued on to Junior year. Even more work and AP classes, and this insane desire to compete. Life was insanely not fun and making me nuts.

Until I just decided to forget about it. Not sure how it happened. I just decided to start slacking. Maybe because I had no choice. But on a few homework assignments that were stressing me out because it was tough to get them done by the deadline, I just didn't do them. :) The teacher would sometimes give me an extension on the project for a lower grade, or just fail me for that project all together.

I got an F for a big paper in AP English because I didn't bother doing it. Didn't make a fuss for the teacher. I just didn't turn it in. Does it make a bit of difference today? Nope. Still got a 5 on the AP test, the highest grade on an AP test you can get.

Still got other good grades on some stuff, and bad grades on other things. And it doesn't really matter today. I still got into the school I applied to. I slacked there too and didn't feel like filling out multiple school applications. I filled out one to a good school, a good program, and one that was going to be my most affordable choice, the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana).

My point is, I realized so many of the things I was trying to achieve were stressful and useless in the grand scheme of things. My mood about school and life changed completely Junior and Senior year when I decided to just start achieving less.

Great things still happened to me, for so many other reasons than me stating some lofty goals of getting this grade, or that rank, or doing better than that kid. Great things happened probably because I still worked hard, but just started enjoying it for its own sake.

I fell in love with physics, and reading all the cool stuff we were reading in English class. The grades stopped mattering. It was the act of learning that became more enjoyable.

This is a lesson most of us don't seem to learn or keep in our heads too long. We create artificial goals of getting promotions or more money or buying things and it causes us an insane amount of stress. And all it takes is a bit of a change in perspective that all that stuff likely doesn't matter as much as you think it does. And you could really just enjoy the act of whatever it is you're doing. Life becomes a lot more fun.

I'll be writing some more stuff about achieving less soon. But let me know what you guys think. Have there been times you've let go of lofty goals because those goals were eventually unrealistic and not very useful? Anyone studying Taosim? Just picked up the Tao of Pooh which I haven't read for about 10 years, but seems to be a decent introduction to a philosophy I'd like to learn a lot more about.

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