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Setting personal goals for academic success

Graphic by Alex '16
Graphic by Alex ’16

I am a huge advocate for goal-setting. No, not the “Personal Best” or “SMART Goal” goal-setting, but the private, personal kind. For me, setting goals has been an extremely important motivator in my effort to become the person I aspire to be.
I remember throughout elementary and middle school, I would have homework assignments at the beginning of each year about goal-setting. I’d be asked to answer questions like “What are your social goals for this year?” and “What are your academic goals?”. I remember feeling lost in these assignments and unable to find value in them. I wasn’t able to identify my own goals or aspirations, and so instead I wrote down just what I thought people wanted me to achieve: good grades, more friends, success in sports and other extracurriculars. I wrote simple, obvious theoretical achievements; I really didn’t know why I wanted to reach these goals.
Adopting other people’s goals for myself prevented me from developing and achieving my own ambitions. Midway through my first year of high school, I got a C on a math quiz. I expected to feel angry with myself or at least a bit disappointed, but, unlike my parents, I didn’t. I realized that I really did not care about the goals everyone else was setting for me, or at least that I didn’t care about them for the reasons people were giving me.The only motivation I was given to work hard was so that colleges and my peers would be impressed by me. But because I didn’t care about what others thought, the whole idea of “hard work” just felt pointless to me, and eventually, I stopped valuing my work as much as I once did.
As time passed, however, I again and again found that I really disliked not living up to my potential. Getting consistent B’s in classes that I knew I could excel in was, quite frankly, disappointing. Now stripped of the goals that were pushed upon me, I was finally able to realize the importance of goals. Though I didn’t care about what my parents wanted for me or how good my grades appeared to colleges, I realized that I really did care about being smart, and knowledgeable, and understanding the way that the world works. And in order to achieve that, goals—my own goals—were necessary. I previously assumed that goals and resolutions were incapable of ever really having a valuable impact. What I found, though, was that as long as my goals were distinct from the pressure of my parents, colleges and society in general, I was able to achieve them. I finally had real incentive to achieve goals, and so I valued them and worked at them more.
I believe now that the only instances in which goals actually work are when we can figure out how to separate the goals forced upon us from our own goals. When considering goal setting, it is important to only consider your own expectations and ambitions, not the pressures coming from your parents, your school or society. Find your own unique and personal reasons to work hard and improve, and attaining these things will come much easier. It definitely did for me.