I’d like to say my obsession started in 6th grade, when I was beaten in math class for the fastest finisher. I had always felt confident in my abilities, but I became a monster. I hadn’t known how badly that would affect my mindset. My hunger was insatiable and soon, my emotions became unstable.
The first step towards my self-destruction was the week of all-nighters leading up to finals in my senior year of high school. My hands shook with every pen stroke I made, every cue card I flipped, and every word I scanned with my exhausted eyes. My very being trembled with fatigue, but it trembled even more at the thought of failure, so I pressed on, my pride carrying me through the long hours of the night. Evenings mingled with mornings, and I found myself relying on the prospect of far-off success to get myself through. One more hour, I lied to myself. One more night, I repeated. One more week, I told myself. One more year, I reminded myself. I worked so hard, calluses formed on my fingertips and the sleeves of all my shirts became stained with ink. Yet I never stopped. No matter what, I pushed myself to work. The positive reaffirmations my peers and teachers gave me never stuck in my head; in fact, they helped build up the bricks of the foundation of my insecurity, the very foundation that caused this streak of insanity and the pursuit of success.
The second step towards my self-destruction was quitting. When I moved out, I brought the piano to my apartment. Grades became my whole life, but before that, I was a musician. Every time I opened up the piano lid and swept my fingers across the keys, I felt like an artist. I always played to lift my spirits. But what’s the point of fruitlessly pursuing a so-called “passion” if it brings no success? When I came 2nd in a competition for the first time, that was the end of it. I locked up the room that the piano was in and threw the key somewhere in my closet, probably covered by old labs and textbooks by now. Occasionally, I felt as if I could hear music coming, mocking me in silent sadness as I carried on with my masquerade of what was supposedly best for me.
The third step I took towards my self-destruction was signing up for the extra credit calculus exam. I knew it was my weakest subject, yet my pride would not allow for me to do otherwise. Every day, like clockwork, I would go to the campus library and stay there until closing, continuing to read my notes on the bus back to my apartment. My friends said I was crazy. My professors were concerned for my health. But I took no notice of their words. My mind was possessed by the idea of success, which I had been craving my whole life. When I got the exam results back, I cried while reading my chemistry textbook. A 93% was not good enough for me.
Now, I am sitting in my room, weak with fatigue. This is the 4th all-nighter in a row that I have pulled, in preparation for my string of finals. My body is betraying my mind. My brain is swirling with thoughts, formulas and equations mixing with dates and names. But my body is suffering. My heart is beating quickly, I am clammy, and my hands continue to shake. Maybe, I think, my efforts are futile. Maybe by giving up everything that made me who I am, I have paved a path to failure. Is this truly what I seek? A wave of thoughts clouds my mind, and I fall to the ground, textbooks clattering after me.
In truth, I am successful. But am I truly happy? My life has been an endless chase for things that have been so far away. Shaking myself off, I do something I promised myself I’d never do. Starting towards the closet, I take a deep breath. After an hour of sifting through my old papers, memories of failure and success rush through my head. Then, I find it. The object that, in many ways, has been the key to unlocking my true self-worth, yet which I had been denying for so long. I pick up the rusty key, and turn the lock to the ancient room in which the piano lies. Then, autopilot takes over and I no longer worry. I simply play the piano, the music lapping around me like waves.
In the morning, when I head off to the first of my many exams, I realize that I have not re-read my notes. But for some reason, I no longer care.