Thriving When You’re Only Fifteen Years Old

"Burnout, stress, and exhaustion are too real, and it starts too early."

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Going back to school is never easy. My alarm, set for 6:30, blares without warning, yanking me from my dreams. With a groan, I quite literally roll out of bed and onto my bedroom floor. I brush my teeth and pull on my uniform and head to the kitchen to grab breakfast– a burnt piece of toast. I plop my chem textbook into my backpack and the weight of the book tugs at the seams of the polka dotted backpack that I got in seventh grade. My parents usher me into the car and I take my last breath of sweet, summer air. And with that, I’m off to sophomore year.

I arrive at Castilleja, an all-girls school in the heart of Silicon Valley. My Head of School, Ms. Nanci Kauffman, welcomes us back with her traditional speech. Opening speeches generally follow a certain structure at my school; they start with an anecdote and lead into why a certain character trait is important, thus pronouncing it to be the theme for the year. But this year, the speech was a little bit different. In this speech, Ms. Kauffman referenced famed (eccentric) billionaire, Elon Musk, and the open letter that Arianna Huffington had penned to him, reminding him the importance of taking time for yourself and replenishing. The theme for this year is “to thrive.”

In her speech, Ms. Kauffman, undoubtedly, was responding to the high levels of stress and exhaustion found not just in the stories of Silicon Valley billionaires, but also running rampant in our high schools.

Growing up in Silicon Valley, I’ve pretty much been surrounded by the lore of tech billionaires my whole life. Steve Jobs created the iPhone that got me hooked on Candy Crush, Larry Page and Sergey Brin got me my first email account in fourth grade, and Bill Gates enabled my teachers to make all of their pretty PowerPoint presentations that taught me everything I know about California state history. All they had was a good idea and a dream, and now they’re internationally acclaimed billionaires who changed the world and how we experience it. Their stories don’t feel real; they’re like fairy tales.

The fairy tales told to me and my friends are no longer about patient and lovely Cinderellas. Instead, we are taught to be aggressive hustlers like Steve Jobs.

My parents worked hard and made so many sacrifices to get us the opportunities that are afforded to me in the Bay Area– and it feels like I can’t mess that up. So instead of feeling like I have the opportunity to be great, it feels like I have no other choice but to be exceptional.

Instead of feeling like I get to invent the next Facebook, I feel like I have no choice but to invent the next Facebook.

So how do my peers and I get to invent something like Facebook? We put in the work. We get the grades, we do the extracurriculars, and we take SAT prep classes instead of hanging out with our friends. We do everything to get into the right classes to get into the right colleges to get into the right jobs in order to be successful.

This determination is inspiring, and working hard is good.

But this determination comes at a steep price. When sleep is less important to students than studying, any remnants of a healthy life are wiped away. Eleven year olds chug coffee to stay up late preparing for their history test, and juniors are addicted to the Adderall that seems to be the only thing keeping them going. Every day is a grind, and high school becomes a means to an end.

We are burning out at just fifteen years old.

So this is why Ms. Kauffman gave her speech, and this is why it is so important that Ms. Huffington wrote her open letter to Elon Musk. Because it is so easy to get swept away in the grind that is daily life, and it is just so hard to remember to take a moment for yourself. This is why Thrive Global matters. Burnout, stress, and exhaustion are too real, and it starts too early. We must remind ourselves to sleep, to see our families, to laugh with our friends. We need to take some deep breaths and relax. And, in the words of both Ms. Kauffman and Ms. Huffington, we need to thrive.

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