a woman is hiking through the forest with beautifully pulled-back hair and an introspective look on her face


I Peaked In High School And Haven’t Lived Up To My Potential — But Who Cares?

Jan 9, 2020

I think it’s safe to say that I peaked in high school — or maybe university.

I always did well in school, participated in extracurricular activities, won awards and was generally seen to be “going places.” In both high school and university I helped run the school, holding leadership positions on student council, playing sports, excelling academically and working a series of highly coveted jobs, often more than one at the same time.

But then I floundered.

It's not just adults who suffer from impostor syndrome. Kids do too. Read about that here

I liked school because it was variable, interesting and my schedule and work were completely under my control. I didn’t love being a worker bee required to sit in an office from at least 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., even if I had completed all my work in the first hour. There was no exploration, no creativity, no passion and no purpose.

Without feeling any commitment to “the corporate way,” I became frustrated and not a model employee. I chafed at restraints, ignorant co-workers and unreasonable policies. Far from climbing the corporate ladder, I was barely hanging on. People who I knew from school who struggled there were suddenly far more successful than I was. They shook off the feedback, shrugged when they didn’t quite nail something and bounced back from conflict. Me? I was certainly not living up to my potential, or all the plans I had for myself and others expected of me.

I was without a goal. I didn’t want to be a VP. Didn’t care about a fancy car. Was less than motivated by the company’s targets, which were so often at odds with the creative ideas I had, the off-the-beaten-path concepts and campaigns I wanted to pursue. So many times I envisioned myself at the end of my life looking back, and I couldn’t imagine that I would be proud of navigating the political minefields of a typical career.

So I stopped trying to play that game.

I was bright but not connecting well with that world. I knew I could accomplish more but didn’t want to. I was consumed by thoughts that there must be more to life than the pursuit of money and titles.

"I was certainly not living up to my potential, or all the plans I had for myself and others expected of me."

I had always dreamed of working for myself as a writer, and I worked hard at making that happen. Finally, I felt passionate and motivated again, with the flexibility and freedom I craved.

I also taught yoga for a long time and still do occasionally, but I soon realized that it was no longer fulfilling and I felt that my participants deserved more. I stopped teaching to free up more time for writing projects, focusing whenever possible on a different type of mindset: a world that valued sustainability over personal fame, comfort and desire.

I started volunteering for environmental and conservation organizations. My salary is certainly modest, but I don’t feel the need for expensive hair dye or blowouts, designer jeans, or ever-changing home décor. My nails can remain unpainted, my smartphone basic.

I continue to be proud of my friends who have achieved career success. They have impressive titles and make a lot more money than I do. They provide amply for their children and families. They are secure, and more than comfortable. What I’m not sure about, though, is if they are happy.

My whole approach crystalized when I was watching the documentary Virunga about the park rangers in Virunga National Park risking their lives to protect the land and mountain gorillas from oil companies, poachers, conflict and other desecration. One of these real-life heroes said simply, “You must justify why you are on this earth."

Speaking of potential. Here's a story from a mother who grew up gifted and her life didn't turn out how she expected. 

This one line stopped me in my tracks.

It conveyed everything I had been feeling, the burning need I had experienced throughout my life to cut through the meaningless chatter and to actually make your life count for something. Whenever I feel like I should get a “real” job, make more money or use more of my intelligence or skills, I remind myself that I am doing something worthwhile by working to protect the planet. I'm determined to challenge the status quo and ask the question: “Is there a different way we all could be living?” I also believe my kids benefit from seeing these values in action. 

I may have peaked in high school, but I have found happiness in hopping off the corporate ladder. My favourite pursuits are mindful, simple and often free. I look for experiences, time for reflection and opportunities to give back. My resumé may not be very impressive, but my remembrances of adventures, environmental stewardship and spending time with nature and my family are beyond sweet.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a writer who moved from the big city to Orangeville in 2014 and never looked back, claiming a need to take the scenic route through life. Her blended family includes five kids, a wildly overgrown garden and a whole lot of coffee. Janice cherishes creative writing as a treat, right up there with overstuffed tacos, '80s mixed tapes and walks on beaches scattered with dunes. 

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