Not the right headspace

Academic pressure leaves a negative mark on students


I glanced over at the heaps of unfinished overdue papers as my computer screen illuminated its glaring light at 3 a.m.. I’d pulled an all-nighter once again.

When someone is born into an Asian household, high expectations and greatness are always knocking at their door. At least that’s how I’ve felt for the longest time. Ever since I was a child, I was taught to value school and achieve high marks. I was always told that if I was able to do that, my family would be proud of me. All I ever wanted as a little girl was for my family to say “I am proud of you.” Ever since that day, I made it my life’s mission to get exceptional grades. But I never imagined I’d have to sacrifice my personal happiness for something almost unattainable.

I came to the U.S. around the age of 3. As I grew up, I’ve heard countless stories of my parents and their hardships back in Burma. My mom would always tell me how she gave up her dreams to become a doctor due to financial struggles that her family faced. This inspired me to be the daughter that she never got to be. When I was in first grade here in the U.S., I realized how difficult it was to learn. Everything was so different. My teachers spoke a language that I didn’t understand. By the time I finally adjusted, it was too late. I was already receiving low grades like B’s and C’s. 

My parent’s reactions crushed my heart. They didn’t yell or scream at me. They just had a blank expression, and that was what scared me the most. Their looks were engraved on my heart and I have carried it with me ever since. 

As my high school years progressed, I began to focus less on myself and more on my education. I would spend countless days staying up late to study just to receive an A. I found myself canceling my plans and giving myself no time to relieve my stress. What was I supposed to do? There was no room for failure. 

That perspective, which I’d had for a long time, was harmful to my mental health. Stress was pounding on my door, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

As time passed, the noise got quieter. I realized that academics aren’t the only thing that matters in the world. My mental health and the effort I put in are the most important factors. Getting good grades is also important, but sacrificing my own happiness for it is not. 

As an Asian American, convincing my parents of my importance beyond academics was difficult. Although I could see their point of view, it was up to me to do what was best for myself.