That night, the stars tattooed the sky with their drawings. The moon hung low, a creamy beam shining onto the cloak of darkness that enveloped the world. The houses and trees appeared more like shadows on the landscape rather than three-dimensional objects. It was the night before.
When I woke up the next morning, I would be going to school. This year, however, would be different.
In the past, it had felt like I was living the same school year over and over again, changing grade levels but never really changing as a person. It was on this night when I made the decision that this school year was going to be so different from all the other years that had piled up inside my mind, blending together into a blur of pencils, tests and stress.
Sitting on the cusp of a fresh beginning makes you question the staleness of all your other endings. Although I have said to myself that this year would be different more than one time, I never made them different. Never before had I put in the hard work to make a change. However, now, I was determined to make this beginning, middle and end the combination of an amazing year, despite the impending troubles that the coronavirus is promising.
Although the moon was near the apex of the sky and my hours were quickly fading into the next day, I decided to make a mental list. Staring up into the vast depths of the sky, I decided to explore my equally open mind, figuring out what I really wanted to do this year.
In the past, I had weighed myself down with the pressures of expectations and grades, constantly competing against myself. When our biggest enemies become ourselves, it is hard for us to ally with the idea that we are more than good enough. Letting a bad moment in the day ruin the rest of what is good or allowing a bad week to determine the greatness of a month can be a toxic mindset that many of us possess as we go about our daily routine.
This meant that the first thing to change would be my mindset of constant perfection; instead, I would focus on progress. I knew progress couldn’t be measured with a linear graph. It is measured by the sum of what we personally consider victories. It could be a few steps backward, but, overall, it was more steps forward. It could be a loss, but, overall, it was more about learning why you lost.
If I was going to redefine what progress meant to me, I had to honestly figure out what I meant by victories, and that became my second task. Was it some trophy I earn? Some medal I win? Some award I gain? Does progress only consist of victories, as I once believed? Since my goal was to learn how to measure progress more accurately, I decided that I would no longer measure my success by such strict criteria.
Instead, I would measure it by how much I learned. When I came out of the classroom, did I remember more information than when I believed I had to be perfect?
I finally decided that I wanted to amass knowledge rather than collect stellar grades. Often, we focus so much on the grade or award that we forget the object of school or life: to keep learning. A loss may be damaging to your superficial success, but a loss can mean so much for your mass of knowledge.
Learning meant paying attention to the present, leading me to my third task: spend more time in the present. The mindset of “when this happens …” can be so dangerous because it leaves us wishing for what could be, rather than appreciating what is. Ignoring the present in favor of the vast future leaves us discontent and wishing for more, as I have learned from years of experience.
Staring up into the endless, open sky that night, I realized that my life shared so many traits with the beautiful sky above me. My life was open to me. There were endless possibilities wherever I choose to create them, but these things would only come to me if I was determined to drop the weight of expectations, strive for progress as defined by my own definition and live in this incredible moment.
Do you see these words? You forget to notice the wonders of language, black ink telling you a story.
Do you see the world around you? It exists, but we forget to notice.
Do you see who you are? Inside all of us, there is progress to be made. There is knowledge to be gained. There is a life to be lived to its fullest.
Emelia Richling is a junior at Northwest High School.
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