How getting the GPA doesn’t guarantee happiness

Illustration by Jennifer Luxton / Contributor

Remember in high school when people you knew could be put on a linear scale of success? Basically all you had to do was look at a student’s GPA and maybe extra-curriculars, and that would determine the caliber of school that they went to. The university, in turn, would probably determine their success in life. So, what happened to the people who were obviously going to fail and the people who were obviously going to succeed? Should be obvious.

Let’s consider my friend, who I’ll call Mike, and his sister Amanda, who together perfectly illustrate the deviant vs. straight and narrow model. Mike is the fool, a loony person, passionate about everything. He’d insist that trail markers and signs are just suggestions, and as long as you know where you are, you’re fine. He’s a strong flavor of ice-cream — not for everyone but always memorable. However, he procrastinated doing homework and housework and spent each dinner arguing with his parents over the course of high school.

Amanda, the first born, was the polar opposite. She was smart and beautiful, and she studied hard. Amanda was an obedient dog, desperate to please her parents, someone who would never disagree or try to go a different way. The wise man, the straight path, follow the guide.

Amanda was cherished as she always did what her parents said, and Mike was the perpetually patronized. Amanda was getting over a 4.0 GPA and Mike was barely making B’s. While Mike was bringing home medals and awards from his sport, his parents would just insist that he should drop out. They even called the school and asked to have him disenrolled because they suspected it was detracting from his studying time and making him gain weight.

Amanda graduated with a degree from a private school close to home. She didn’t know where to go or what to study, so her mother chose for her. She maintained her grades while trudging through undergrad and visited her parents on the weekends.

Mike later went to CSUN and has completed three years. He is on track to graduate in four years and has held several jobs.

I once asked Amanda what she wanted.

“A perfect, steady box life,” she insisted. I thought this very odd, but if that’s what she wants then she should go for it. I forgot that there is no such animal.

Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necocohea / Contributor

Amanda’s mother decided that Amanda should attend a medical school after her undergrad years. It made some sense; since Amanda isn’t interested in anything, why not just go for the job that makes the most money? So, just over a year ago, Amanda packed her bags and headed across the country to start a new adventure.

Mike is getting along better than I thought he would. He’s taken leadership training at school and sometimes lectures me on the job market, business practices, communication and networking. He loves his major and is still considered a wild, curious and energetic guy by his peers. I think he’ll survive when he graduates.

Amanda continued going through the motions to please her mother at her new school. I thought medicine would be a bad career choice, since Amanda fainted several times in anatomy class and whenever she saw blood, but perhaps she could grow out of it. I didn’t hear from her until a few months ago; what I’d heard second hand until then was that she was doing fine.

Several months ago Amanda came back from school, spectral and with nothing to say.

Summer was only supposed to last a few weeks for her before she was to do observation hours for study.

She never went back.

Eventually, Amanda explained. With tears welling in her eyes, she told us how much she hated school because it’s too hard, the concepts too gross, and she misses her family. Although the school granted her the option of taking a year off for mental health reasons before returning to study, she’s sure she’ll probably never go back.

“I was just so lonely,” she said between hardly stifled sobs. “I felt like I wanted to kill myself.”

Now Amanda lives with her parents again. Some of her friends from high school have moved away, and she is too shy and scared to try and contact any of the ones who might still be around. Her major during her undergrad yeara was studying a language and she is too shy and scared for any employer to hire her on personality. She has no passions, so she can’t hold onto a hobby. She’s in therapy now and on several anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds. The one year of education left her $65,000 in debt.

I remind you, this prodigy was once assumed to have the brightest future. When I asked her what she’s trying to do with her life now, she would only respond, “Just let me have my pills.”

Not healthy, nor happy, nor wealthy or employed, while Mike’s current life wide-eyed dreams are becoming more and more satisfying.

The reason I found this worth sharing was to illustrate what characteristics might affect your success. Amanda is illustrative of someone who could work hard and diligently, but has not a drop of music in her soul. Mike is fun and colorful, and although he does not work quite as hard to stay the straight and narrow (to be specific, he’s making B’s at a state school), it looks like his diverse interests and multi-dimensional personality are leading to a satisfying life.

The overall moral I garnered from this story was that perhaps we put too much weight and faith on parental gratification, the reputation of your school and grades.