When Good Isn’t Good Enough

It’s far too familiar to look around a classroom and feel that, although you’re doing well, you’re still behind.


photo by Julia Poppa

When I see all the intelligent students around me, I often wonder if I really belong.

It’s a daily occurrence. I glance around at all the faces in the halls. I hear the chatter about an AP test or grades. I see piles of books and binders being carried. And I am filled with a dreadful emotion that can only be described as inadequacy. 

It’s a sensation that sticks with me as I go about my routine. In almost every class, for every second, I am surrounded by gifted students with high intellects and rigorous academic histories and sky-high GPAs.

It’s North Allegheny in a nutshell, after all. It feels like everyone here is talented. Everyone was trained for this whole education thing. Everyone is beyond qualified. 

Except me.

I usually pride myself on being a fairly logical person. I like when things make sense. And trust me, I know how foolish this sounds. Objectively, I am one of those kids. I’ve taken difficult classes and succeeded, and I’ve been in this environment my whole life. I was groomed to be one of those students since I was a kindergartner.

This, however, is one instance where I cannot seem to believe in the facts. No matter how hard I try, I cannot picture myself as one of them. Instead, it feels like I’ve ended up where I am on accident, that I’ve barely gotten by while all of my other classmates thrived.

It’s an intense fear rooted inside all of the anxiety and nerves swarming in my head: I don’t belong here. I’m not made for this.

That is just about the worst thing you could tell someone like me— someone who values education in the highest regard and has spent the last eleven years trying to be the best student she could. But it’s something I tell myself almost every single day.

So, the big question is why?

The competitive culture at North Allegheny is both unconventional and flawed, but while that is a serious issue, I don’t think that’s ever truly gotten under my skin. Sure, it’s easy to be frustrated by the high expectations, but I’ve generally been a kid who could always reach them.

As far as parental pressure goes, I’ve been lucky enough to have a supportive family that has never pressured me to do anything more than what I’m capable of.

That really only leaves one option, and it’s the most frightening of all. It’s me. I’m doing this to myself.

I can’t get out of my own head. In the moments when I’m sitting in class or walking in the hallways and look around and feel completely incompetent, I’m stuck. 

You can drop a class. You can ignore the external pressure. But you can’t escape what’s inside your head.

It’s come to the point where I often have to take a pause and analyze what thoughts are going through my mind, just to make sure I stay in a stable place. Because once the fear hits, it’s paralyzing.

I wasn’t just concerned about deadlines or grades or college. I was genuinely questioning my own worth. ”

It opens up a very important conversation about mental health. For the longest time, I thought it was okay to ignore all of these emotions because I was just stressed out, like every other high schooler. That stress, however, took an immense toll on all other aspects of my life. I wasn’t just concerned about deadlines or grades or college. I was genuinely questioning my own worth. 

It’s vital to acknowledge that it’s not normal to feel that way. It isn’t some rite of passage or part of the high school experience. It’s a mental issue that needs to be addressed.

Well, I addressed it, but I’m still working on the whole fixing it part. 

When it seems like I’m making progress, I’m reminded exactly why it’s such an uphill battle. Because it feels like I’m always a step behind.

It’s hard to celebrate your successes when you’re convinced your peers have already done that and then some. If I do well in a class at my level, I just think about my friends who skipped at least two grades in math (many of them doing so as early as elementary school). I think about my classmates who take extra courses at the community college. They do better on the SATs because they took Calculus freshman year. It also allows them to take more AP classes at a younger age. They’re one step ahead.

Thinking about being behind everyone else seems overwhelming and terrifying. Trust me, I know this negative feeling is my fault. I’ve always been a competitive person, so I can’t help but look beside me and see how well everyone else is doing. I want to know where I’m at in the race, even if it hurts. I’m well aware that I need to stop comparing myself to others. Easier said than done. 

I also know how hard my classmates work to get such accolades. They commit extra hours, time, and even summers to their education. I’m in awe of their dedication.

While I do take my education seriously and work extremely hard, I still have other priorities. I enjoy spending more time with family and friends and playing sports. These are things that, if I would have skipped a few grades in a subject, I might have missed out on. We’ve taken different paths, and I’m okay with that.

I simply wish that it didn’t end with the feeling that doing well in eleventh-grade classes isn’t good enough. I wish that taking a couple of AP and several Honors classes did not make me feel like I still wasn’t keeping up.  Just once, I wish that own version of good would feel good enough.

Unfortunately, that may just be one of the costs of high-quality education. As long as excellent opportunities are available, talented students will take advantage. The culture isn’t going to change, but my own mindset must.

Just once, I wish that own version of good would feel good enough.”

So far, my track record of improving this mindset isn’t very good, considering that, in my junior year, I’m still trying to figure out how to not look around the room and judge myself based on what I see. 

Perhaps a solution can be found in acknowledging that the feeling is not always true. And even if it is, it isn’t specific to just me.

I think that’s why I’m just screaming these words into the world — I’m hoping that the next time I look around the room and feel like I can’t compete, a few of my peers are doing the same exact thing.  Maybe it’s selfish, but it makes me feel less alone. Somehow, that’s much more bearable.