What Do You Really Want?

A woman working on a laptop.

What do I really want?

It dawned on me the other night that I could not remember learning something because I wanted to learn it, not because someone told me to. Not because someone told me that this is how it works. Not because someone told me don’t question it, this is how you get into a good college. Get a good job. Get what you want. Get what you have worked for.

But that is not what I work for. I work for more than a score, more than a school, and more than myself. Yet, as I look at my hand smudged gray after writing page after page, I question if I have become a hypocrite. Within the stacks of papers in front of me is a lost identity, a love of learning buried beneath sheets and sheets of meaninglessness. I wish I could throw away the papers to find her, to tell her that intelligence is so much more than a grade and that knowledge exists beyond the classroom. At the moment, she doesn’t want to hear it. She can’t see past what is in front of her, blinded by what she has been told over and over again. She is afraid to stop chasing what she is after, although she can not remember what it is anymore.

I don’t want to be her anymore. I want to be the girl I was only a few years before, a child who only wanted to understand the complex world in which she lived. I miss her limitless imagination and constant curiosity, her big-eyed awe at the little things and endless questions. When did my life become about a score? A percentage? A letter? A grade? At an invisible point in time, I lost what made me, me and fell to the hands of a power that seems to pull so many of us in the wrong direction. Our perspective becomes so warped and we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of our own habits and tell ourselves to act faster and work harder. We forget to tell ourselves to look up, to tell those around us that we love them, to do that thing you really wanted to do but didn’t have the time. We sacrifice the things we want to learn for what we have to learn, we forget that not understanding is what makes us human. We tell ourselves that if we are not perfect, we have not succeeded.

To me, something is wrong. When I do not have the time to write, one of things I have always loved most, something is broken. There is something wrong with the fact that there is so much I desperately want to learn but do not have the time, that time stolen by an education system that forgets to teach us how to be human, and fails to see that knowledge is not formulas and brute memorization. There is something wrong that I can forget that my education is something others would vie for, and that I have forgotten its true meaning. I want to understand how I can contribute to the people and world around me, not how my standardized test score can contribute to a college’s ranking. I find myself in a fit of frustration that I have lost yet another day ignoring my own thoughts, continuing down a path that I was pushed down. What I really want is to be able to explore who I am and my place in the world, to fill my mind with the countless questions I’ve shoved away for too long. Whether it is by grades or by numbers, America is a nation that feels compelled to measure its success rather than feel it. It is only now that I see there is no true satisfaction in that, but rather a feeling of emptiness and exhaustion from trying to get to a place of perfection that simply does not exist.

Grades are a part of life. No matter whether it is marked in red ink at the top of your paper or not, you are being graded by someone, somewhere. All of our actions matter; all of our decisions have consequences that we must acknowledge, both the good and the bad. There will always be someone in a higher position of power judging our behaviors, our intelligence, our morality. We are tested by our parents, by our peers, and most importantly, ourselves. Yet it is the unwritten grades that really matter, the ones that do define who we are. We get to make the decision of how we want people to perceive us, and how we perceive and react to others. Though there is no answer key, these are the grades we can control. We get to choose what kind of person we aspire to be and whether or not we will fulfill that potential. There is no number to be placed on self-determination, righteousness, nor ethicality, but they are the “grades” that make all the difference.

Whenever you are in the midst of something, whatever it may be, it feels impossible to see beyond the present. You feel like every little thing holds the weight of the world, and that with one wrong move everything will come crashing down. But you are still you no matter what happens, and who you are as an individual is incomparable to any result you will ever receive. It is too easy to lose sight that we are part of something much larger than ourselves, and that what is most important can never be given a grade. We must ask ourselves what it is we really want, and an answer can only come from within. When you discover what it is, run towards it. Run towards what will make you finally feel fulfilled, what will leave you breathless with awe and satisfaction.

For me, I am not longer chasing a number- I'm sprinting on an endless pursuit to find what knowledge means to me and what I can do with it.

United States of America