Reflections on Stress & Success from a Challenge Success Student Alum

Now in my fourth year of college, I look back on my high school days with great appreciation, something not a lot of students from high performing schools can say. I attribute that in large part to Challenge Success, which greatly improved my school’s culture and my high school experience for the better. So when I was given an opportunity to work for them this summer, I took it in a heartbeat. I really believe in Challenge Success’s mission and believe it’s an organization every high performing school should partner with. 

I attended Mills High School, a high performing school in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. Like most high performing schools in the area, there was a lot of pressure on students to achieve, with sinister effects on their mental health. My peers were constantly tired and upset, breaking under the weight of parental expectations. Luckily for us though, one of our counselors, noticing these feelings and trends, partnered with Challenge Success in order to help combat these issues. Armed with information from Challenge Success, our counselors challenged our notions of success and provided us with a perspective that was refreshing, necessary, and life-changing. At a time when we were beginning to form our identity and trade the play days of middle school in the hopes of future “success”, we were reminded that success must be defined by each one of us individually. Our counselors reminded us that academic success is just one portion of a successful life and that allowing oneself to be happy is just as important as achieving some external marker like grades or test scores. Challenge Success helped us push for bell schedule changes, homework-free holidays, and course schedulers that prevented overloading. It helped enable us students to work with our counselors to create real, positive change. 

Because of Challenge Success, I felt empowered to continue doing the things I loved, which made me who I am and has created lasting benefits for me long after high school. Instead of looking for and working at internships which were considered “more prestigious”, I instead continued to play sports year-round. I loved sports and people, and especially loved those things more than going to an office after school and making spreadsheets. And so I continued playing sports, which developed me into a leader and has been an asset during my college years, and I’m sure will continue to be for the rest of my life. Because of Challenge Success, Instead of developing my resume, I developed myself. 

The Challenge Success mentality isn’t just a way to have a better high school experience, it is a better way to live. I have continued to use it throughout my four years in college, and I’m sure I will continue to use it in the years to come. In today’s hyper-competitive, social media-filtered world, it’s so easy to feel anxious and get sucked into the rat race, no matter what age or stage of life we’re at. But if we lay the right foundations from a young age, we will continue to reap the benefits of a resilient, adaptable, and healthy mindset for the rest of our lives. With that said, here are a few lessons I’ve learned and kept along the way, that are inspired by the Challenge Success mentality: 

  1. Who you become in high school matters a lot more than where you end up going for college: Studies show that in general individual characteristics are more important than the college one attends. From my own experience, I can attest to that. My friends who cheated and gamed the system to get into college struggled throughout college. My friends who studied well, enjoyed life, and were well-rounded are doing well, regardless of the college they went to. So do your best! There are few shortcuts in life, and they are mostly unsatisfying and unfulfilling. Your abilities to study, learn, and enjoy the process that you’re cultivating now will pay dividends for the rest of your lives.


  2. What you do in college matters a lot more than where you go: Research and my personal experiences also support this. I’ve had friends who have gone to Ivy Leagues and who have not made very much of their opportunities. I’ve had friends who went to our local community college who are now working at some of the best firms in the San Francisco Bay Area. What matters so much more is what you do at college and what you make of the resources available to you. So don’t worry too much about doing things to get into the best college! What matters more is what you do once you are there.


  3. Enjoy life, always: Back when I was in high school, I remember my friends and I would always encourage one another with remarks like “Keep going. We just need to work hard to get into a good college and then we’ll be set!”. Now that I’m in college, my friends and I have edited the adage, but the message is still mostly the same, “Keep going. We just need to work hard to get a good job and then we’ll be set!”. I’m sure that at work, my friends and I will simply edit the phrase again, sacrificing the current moment for future enjoyment that will continue to be postponed (promotions? graduate school?). If we wait for later to have fun, later will never come. There will always be a new reason to sacrifice and work hard. And while working hard and being disciplined are great things, they should not be taken to extremes. Life is long. Life is a journey. We must allow ourselves the opportunity to enjoy every part of it, while working hard and finding satisfaction in that. 

Shayan Lavasani was a Research Intern with Challenge Success and a member of his Challenge Success student club in high school. He is currently studying Public Policy Analysis with a concentration in Economic policy at Pomona College and hopes to work in education after graduating.