[Not so] Fun Fact: It is believed that the anxiety levels in a high school student in 2014 was the same as that of an insane asylum patient in the 1950s
The average life expectancy for males in Australia is 84 with females at 87. Five years of these are spent in high school, 3 of them being incredibly stressful and time consuming. After doing the math, I found a number that struck a chord with me: High school represents 5% of your life. Out of 100%, only 5% of this is taken up by high school. Now, let me simplify this even more. If we condensed your lifespan into one twenty-four hour day, only one hour of this would be spent in the confines of a high school classroom. Only one hour.
Yet, as years have progressed from the days of our parents and even the generation before that, there is now a greater emphasis on school work and grades. It is almost a weekly occurrence to be told that “you can’t get a good job anymore without a university degree”, to which I beg to differ but that is a story for another time. The immense pressure facing students now is increasing to the point of suicide, depression, anxiety and a sheer desire to never have to go to school ever again, dreading the 8:40AM homeroom bell purely because it brings with it a bundle of nerves and fears.
The story behind my writing of this text stems from the week I have had. This week, I undertook a work placement at Newscorp SA which opened my eyes to the bigger picture of life. For as long as I can remember, I have wished to be a journalist, writing, reporting and breaking the news to the world and to the state. Early on, I wanted to be a political journalist like Mark Riley then I yearned for a career in fashion journalism and recently have been entranced in sport journalism with a focus on professional cycling and cricket not unlike Michael Tomalaris or Roz Kelly. During my placement, I was exposed to a whole new side of the profession that I had never considered before; deadlines, transcribing, hours upon hours sitting at a desk typing away and having stories you worked really hard to produce be shut down by your editor because it wasn’t what they liked. I was lucky enough to be published 3 times with no journalism and/or media degree to my name and was provided with vital and constructive feedback from some fellow writers and even managed to meet one of my favourite journalists, which was something I never expected to happen.
How does this relate to my initial topic of high schooling? Throughout my time there, I began to ask questions such as “How did you get here?” “What did you study?” “How did year 12 help you get here?”. The answers varied but were typically riding along the same lines. I was told experiences about never having gone to university, failing year 12 subjects and starting at the paper straight after school finished. I was even told year 11 is harder than year 12. And this was not from people who began in the 1990s or the 1980s, this was in the 2000s-2010s. It was incredibly uplifting to hear this from people working where I see myself in 10 years time, hectic deadlines and all.
So if school only represents 5% of my lifetime, why am I stressing so much? The answer is obvious as it is because I am living it now. In 10 years time, no one is going to care if I failed a year 11 Maths exam or only achieved a 60 ATAR. They’re going to look at how I have come to them, the experiences I have gained and the knowledge I have obtained. They’re not going to ask me what ATAR I achieved and judge that, they’re going to see the work I have done, whether that is at a university level, Tafe level or however I have managed to gain experience. If a 50 year old woman with 15 years at a publishing house and a 27 year old man with a 95.90 ATAR apply for the same job at a newspaper, the woman with the experience with be rewarded with the job. Yes, the man had an incredibly impressive year 12 score, but that is exactly what it is; a year 12 score for admission to university courses.
I have never achieved the highest grade in a class, received an academic award or been overly smart in a particular topic. I get my work done to the best of my ability and hand up work I am proud to have graded, with the exception of a few assignments earlier this year (I am only human after all!). I have always been a stress head at school and my closest friends can vouch for this. The beginning of this year almost broke me, I ended up crying to my teacher and began an uprising against another. Every year I stress more and more even when I, really, have nothing to worry about. One thing I hate most, however, is when you try your best, put all your blood, sweat and tears into something and go almost unrewarded. In high school terms, this is known as receiving a B+ for an assignment instead of the A you believe you have earned and are rightfully entitled to. You slaved on the assignment, worked tirelessly on it an had it drafted all for, basically, what feels like nothing. I’ve suffered with this attitude for the past 3 years and this year it entered into a subject I always believed was my forte. It came as a slap in the face and a wake up call that I needed.
After my placement, I took a new attitude on high schooling. Like in the movies where you see people walking down the streets of the city, smiling their heads off at something unknown to you, this was me in Friday afternoon walking down King William Street after seeing my name in print, published in the biggest newspaper in South Australia. It was like all my hard work had paid off. I sat on my train ride home (continuing to smile) and contemplated. Contemplated what the journalists had taught me, contemplated what they had said, and contemplated how they got there. I had always placed more pressure on myself than anyone else did on me and when I saw my article published, I felt something change that struck a chord in me. Almost like an epiphany.
My point is, if high school is only 5% of our lives, I need not worry. We still have another 95% to get it right. If high school is only one hour of a day, we still have more than twenty-three to get it right. Achieving A’s and B’s in History, LOTE and English subjects should shine brighter than failing a Maths exam but it never has. And that exam grade does not define you as a person, as we are so often informed. If you fail a maths exam but ace a Nutrition exam, you’re not dumb and that is a hard thing to keep in mind as a teenager.
I can’t speak for year 12 students because I am not one myself and haven’t been, but, as this is often classed as the ‘biggest year of your lives’ remember to think bigger. The biggest year of your life isn’t spent in classrooms or science labs. It’s spent having your first child, travelling through Europe or planning a wedding to the one you love. Your ATAR for university admission is important now because it sets you up for your immediate future if you intend on going to university but if you’re at the point of anxiety and high levels of stress, something needs to change. I have a high level of respect for year 12’s but remember that it is only one year of your life and when it’s all over in ten years’ time, you’re not going to look back on your ATAR but on the memories and friends that will last a lifetime.
It’s hard and it’s stressful. It’s filled with pointless drama, fatigue and a desire to drop out. Conversely, it’s filled with beautiful people who get you through the day, teachers who can inspire you and moments you never forget. If your lifespan is condensed into a twenty-four hour day, high school represents only one hour of that. That hour will not greatly affect your life beyond one year out of high school. So, how are you going to spend that hour?