Quitting Reflection: Sara Mills ’18

Three out of the four years of my high school experience, I have started in accelerated math and then dropped back to regular. At this point, it feels like a running joke when I tell my guidance counselor and mother that I’m switching out of the advanced class. But when I tell peers, my nonchalant tone is seldom reciprocated. Why is there such a stigma around dropping down a level?  

People are indoctrinated with the idea that “winners never quit, and quitters never win,” and thus, quitters are perceived as losers. At the same time, however, we’re told to try new things and escape our comfort zones. There’s never a time when these two principles don’t conflict. If I decide to try new things, namely five different instruments, and succeed at one, does quitting the rest make me a failure? We aren’t meant to excel at everything. Some people fail where others succeed, but there would be no way of knowing something wasn’t for you unless you tried it. Why is it any different for classes?

The reason we have core subjects is to ensure that students have the ability to try out new things to see what they enjoy most before choosing a path after high school. People should feel unafraid to pursue whatever classes they want, and which level they go into, for if they don’t succeed, they can always switch or drop out. Students should not feel ashamed for realizing they don’t excel in a certain area.

PHS is competitive to say the least. I get why a student would feel ashamed for not doing as well as they had hoped to, but the measure of comparison should not be another person. If you’re frustrated with yourself for not doing as well as you know you can do, talk to the teacher, get a tutor, find new methods of studying, but persevere. If the reason for staying in a class is because you’re afraid that others will judge or think less of you, drop it. If you have friends who are judging you, drop them too. I can guarantee you there are extremely intelligent people in AP, accelerated, and regular classes. In the same regard, do not question how I got an almost perfect score on the SAT math if I “had” to drop AP Calc. The two obviously have very little correlation, and a class level does not define your intelligence or achievements in other areas.

No doubt, there’s a huge obsession with AP classes in our school. Students boast about the number of AP classes they’re taking, often using this as a measure of comparison between themselves and other students. By looking at AP classes like the Holy Grail, either defining your status or strength as a college applicant, you get students who only take the class for the AP. Taking a class simply because of title means you most likely won’t be passionate about it and will become overwhelmed with an intense workload involving a subject you don’t care about.

Ultimately, in choosing classes, you should do what you love and what’s best for your health. Speaking from personal experience, there’s definitely a huge conflict of responsibilities of students. I’ve pulled too many all nighters to count and prioritized school over my own mental health for a long time, but I am slowly unlearning this. Students should be unafraid to go into AP classes, but heed the teacher’s warning in regard to the amount of work the class will be. If a class is overwhelming or you lack interest in it, drop it.

I’ve had the privilege of trying out different sports and instruments. While most of them were phases, I took piano lessons for 11 years, and quitting was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make. By then, it wasn’t about my ability to succeed. Its traditionalist underpinnings and rigidity no longer made me happy, which was the most important thing to me. Since then, I’ve been able to say quitting piano was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It drove me in the direction of voice, composition, production, and experimental music, which I’ll be pursuing next year.

To be able to overcome quitter’s dilemma, there needs to be a differentiation between failing, giving up, and quitting. Not only is persisting useless if you’re on the wrong path, but if not for your happiness, why pursue something? What constitutes a quitter, and why is it often used synonymously with “loser?” Some of the most brilliant and talented people like Mark Zuckerberg, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates quit to pursue their passions. And while I’m not changing the world by dropping back in math, I’m not perpetuating the idea that AP equals success. Instead, I’m redefining success as happiness.

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