Feature image from zoneofsuccess.com
“Passion” is a tricky word. Almost every student must have used it at some point, but its true credibility isn’t something that is often reflected upon. In my high school experience, I’ve seen firsthand how the importance of getting into a “good” college can create false ideas of success and passion, and lead to people becoming driven by prestige rather than sincere conviction.
When I entered high school, I was a very confused student. I didn’t know about the existence of recommendation letters for summer programs and college applications. I didn’t know when I should take the SATs, how student government works, what homecoming was, or even that I could self-study APs freshman and sophomore year. Basically, the only information I knew came from conversations that my mom had with other parents at Chinese School.
(If the above scenario applies to you too, please seek help immediately. Preferably our help. We’re pretty good.)
Meanwhile, many of my peers have started preparing since junior high. Some spent every single lunch throughout 7th and 8th grade walking from person to person to network, carefully assembling voters for future high school officer elections. Others spent every day after school at the tutoring center, where they had comprehensive test banks that allowed them to prepare strategically for the specific tests each teacher would assign.
While I was learning to distinguish between clubs like Leo and Interact, many of my classmates were already on track with the four-year plan they created with their private tutors and parents. They already knew which clubs were easier to get leadership positions in, which competitions they had the best chance to win in, and who to become friendly with to get valuable connections.
I joined band in fifth grade, and decided to continue to in high school. During the annual potluck at the beginning of the year, I heard many upperclassman parents earnestly try to convince freshman to quit while they can. They believed there were many other activities out there that were just as “valuable” as band but much less time-consuming. Since their children had already been in the group for two years, they didn’t want to quit and “look bad” on college applications.
At that point, I had been selected for the shield line in color guard, and freshman me was very excited at the prospect of spinning and tossing objects. It didn’t matter that color guard had an extra 2-hour of rehearsal every week compared to the normal band, because I felt like it would be really fun (which it was).
On the flip side, many of my peers only wanted to do activities that would benefit their chances of getting into an Ivy League school. They intentionally chose “unique” experiences that they could mold into a “creative” story to help them stand out.
The worst is when these people bypass the time and work that others put in by kissing up to organization heads to get special treatment. In many cases I’ve experienced, it works in their favor. They end up having the same title (or even higher) as me, despite skipping out on nearly all the required trainings and events. While I felt these activities were meaningful and important, they only saw them as things to list on their resume.
To such resume padders, what is written on paper is more important than the impact of these experiences on their lives, and the impact that they have on the people around them.
I immersed myself in all the diverse opportunities available in my high school band program, and also expanded to outside groups. I spun the shield in color guard, attended honor band conventions, conducted the band and competed in mace as drum major, and later managed a nonprofit band organization. Band became a huge part of my high school experience and identity.
Throughout all of this, I realized that yes, I too was staying on track for college applications. But my drive behind investing all this time, energy, and heart into these activities stemmed from the determination to reach higher goals, not the idea of “prestige”.
Throughout high school, the people who had such “manufactured successes” believed themselves to be at the top of the social hierarchy. On paper, they can write out more impressive-looking titles and their strategies with applying to programs and colleges have worked. Driven by profitable results, their field of vision tended to disregard people like me, who liked to keep everything lowkey.
Now, in college, I see the ones who successfully attained Ivy status through these means, and I wonder: what’s next for them? Will they find fulfillment by continuing on this path that they describe as their “passion”? And I wonder: should passion result in success, or should success result in passion? Could they both hold true?
As of now, I haven’t found my life passion yet. But I hope that for me, and for everyone else out there, the passion that we find will be through authentic work and meaningful experiences, rather than through manufactured success.
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