I wasn’t going to pop in here this week, but at a small family gathering over the weekend, a conversation came up that felt pretty near and dear to my heart. And I felt compelled to share this beautiful message in hopes that it would reach a greater audience of parents, teachers, and/or anyone who may be working with our youth of today.
Anmol Mathur, a friend, a baby sister, an engineer, and also a writer extraordinaire – shared with us that her 7th grade teacher reached out to former students (Anmol included) and requested that they write her current students a letter. Her teacher explained that her students were under an enormous pressure to perform well and keep their grades up every day. These Silicon Valley students are already stressing out about college and are in a competition with their peers to be the best and the brightest in everything – from academics to extracurricular activities.
So Anmol sat down and wrote them this beautiful letter. Encouraging them. Reminding them that their grades aren’t everything. And explaining to them that there is so much more to life than their academic abilities and test scores. If you are a parent or a teacher, an older sibling, or someone who just cares a whole lot about this stressful, high-pressure kind of climate in schools today, I encourage you to read Anmol’s letter to your kids. It’s a message that every single one of them needs to hear.
An Open-Letter to Middle School Students
Written By: Anmol Mathur
My younger brother says I am a “good desi kid” because I studied engineering in college. And while it is true that I did come out of the student life as an engineer, I must tell you that that is not my definition of success. If the whole world were made of doctors and engineers, who would make all of the delicious food we all love to eat? Who would report the important current events in the news? Who would teach the next generation of people who are thirsty for knowledge? Who would create the art, the music, the movies, and the books that we indulge in to mentally escape this high-pressure world for a while?
The most successful people are the ones who care about and work to make this world a better place for everyone, and you don’t need stellar grades to do that. You are more than your grades. You are more than your test scores. I know it may feel like that’s all that matters right now, but try to remember that life goes on even when you’re not an academic all-star. There are more important things to be in life than a straight-A’s student. I certainly wasn’t one.
Teachers are usually willing to help you figure out why you are struggling in their class and how to change your study habits so that you better absorb the material. But you have to ask. As I’ve gotten older, that’s one thing that has become progressively more clear: you’ve got to look out for yourself and use your resources. People are willing to help, but few will think to do so unless and until you reach out.
But even so, don’t chase the percentage points, the letter grades or the pluses and minuses; seek knowledge and understanding. The key to doing well in school (and elsewhere) lies not in your ability to regurgitate vocabulary words, but in your ability to make connections. Connections among the concepts you are studying, connections to experiences in your daily life, connections to the greater world as a whole.
Something that helped me cope with the stresses of being an Asian-american student was stopping to think about the intention behind all of the work and rules that were piled up on us. For example:
- You may not use math much outside of school, but at the very least, it teaches you how to think methodically.
- History gives you insight into how our society got to where is it now and hints at where it may go from here.
- All those essays and book reports you have to write in your English class are to hone your communication skills and expose you to meaningful works of literature, in hopes that you will go on to pursue a love of language, storytelling, and creative thinking.
- The required volunteering hours you have to put in to graduate high school is intended to instill a long-lasting sense of social responsibility to contribute to causes that are important to you.
If you look at schoolwork through that lens, your motivation will shift from being performance-oriented to being learning-oriented, and you will feel much better about your accomplishments as a result. It helps you define success on your own terms and accept that you are not responsible for meeting other people’s unrealistic expectations of you.
Be patient with yourself and understand that we are all works in progress. You’re going to learn things about yourself as you grow up and one of them will be that you’re just not good at certain things. This is perfectly okay. It’s healthy to want to set ambitious goals to improve yourself, but aiming for perfection will always leave you disappointed. Comparing yourself to your peers is not worth the anxiety. Focus not on being THE best at everything you do, but rather on being YOUR best self in whatever you do. That’s enough. In fact, that’s plenty.
Hope all is well,
Anmol (Ms. Chen’s 4th period World History class student from 2006-2007)
Anmol Mathur was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Civil Engineering. She has returned to her hometown after graduation and has been working as a Project Engineer for over a year. Anmol cares deeply about giving back to her community in both her professional life and her personal life.