My dad has always told me, “Shoot for the moon and land on the stars.” It's been a saying that I’ve kept close to me. When I started high school in 2013, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be valedictorian. My school is very small. There are only 54 kids in my graduating class. When we started there were about 60. That meant to me that 59 of those kids were my competition. Here’s the catch. I’ve been going to school with these kids for my entire life, so I knew that that 59 would quickly come down to two.

In the entirety of my schooling career I’ve always been in competition with these two kids, and in high school, it was no different. So my freshman year I figured that I didn’t need to try and go above and beyond because we were in a different ball game. I had four years to be valedictorian, and why worry? That was my first mistake. At the end of my freshman year I had a GPA of 85 which translates to a 3.0. When I checked my ranking, I was number eight in my class. Turns out there was more competition then I thought.

Sophomore year, I decided to work harder than I ever had before. I had been accepted into my school’s early college program a year before. I took four college classes, three regents' courses and PSAT prep classes. I made sure to never get less than a 90 in any of my classes. This was my second mistake. In order to get the best possible grades in class, I gave up a lot of activities I love. I no longer went to my after school program, in favor of going home early to take a nap before staying up till two o'clock in the morning doing homework. I no longer practiced my guitar because I was stressed out about getting an 89 on a test, which meant I had to do extra credit instead. I no longer slept regularly because I would stress myself out about every test, assignment and paper I had due. I became obsessed with being number one. At the end of my sophomore year I was sixth in my class: my GPA was an 88, which is a 3.2.

By the time I got to my junior year I was burnt out. I started to realize that I was competing with myself. The kids who were ahead of me didn't care as much as I did and they weren't trying like was. I had a choice to make. I could either slack off and remain at six or I could keep pushing to get to one. I decided I would work just as hard as I did before. The first semester of my junior year I worked the hardest than I ever did before. But the end of that semester I had moved up to number two in my class. Everyone ahead of me slacked off: my GPA was a 90, which is a 3.5.

That was when I realized that I didn’t want to be number one. It’s funny to think that I spent two and a half years working so hard and right before I got it, I didn't want it anymore. I actually wanted to enjoy the rest of high school. So I spent the rest of the year maintaining that 90. I also created a better schedule for my work so that I could sleep better. After a certain amount of time spent doing homework, I would relax and just enjoy being a teen. It took wasting so much time striving for the number one spot for me to understand that number one or three or even 26 doesn't make you less than anyone else. It doesn't mean you didn't work hard; it isn’t a true representation of who you are. It is just a number.

Now that I’m a senior, I’m number three. I have a GPA of 3.7. Though I won't get a speech a graduation, I have accepted that being number three on paper has given me more experience that I wouldn't have gotten if I was number one. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy my senior year if all I did was work for number one. So I’m happy being number three, because it’s never about where you start or about where you end, it's about the journey you take and what you’ve learned from it. 

Lead Image Credit: Pexels