Are ‘your’ priorities straight?


Students are often swamped with work, and over the span of eight class periods, homework can often take several hours to complete. Photojournalist Gianna Ortner-Findlay snapped a photo of the sheer amount of homework she has. “My priority has effectively been on, everything but myself.” Ortner-Findlay said, “The question now is not what your priority is, in contrast, it is why are you not your priority?”

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In the game of life, everyone has priorities. People focus all of their attention on that thing, whatever the priority may be. And anything else that does not have as much importance is often forgotten. This type of intense hyper-focus is usually put toward subjects such as homework, grades and college scholarships, the topics our parents would expect us to center around. But have you ever looked your well-meaning parent in the eye and said this one simple statement?

My mental health is my priority.

If you have not, you are not alone. Even though mental illness affects about one out of every five teenagers (that’s 8.4 million people), and even though the United States is one of the most progressive when talking about these issues, mental health and its ailments are almost never at the top of the list when it comes to the “what are your priorities?” question.

What about this answer?


Have you ever replied that your priority is your happiness? Has the thought ever occurred that you do not have to spend six hours on homework and feel sad every day? If you have not, you are not alone.

As I have gone through life, I have been asked this question many times. My answers were always school-related. My priority is getting my homework done on time. My priority is getting in all AP classes. My priority is getting a scholarship, so I can go to the university I want. I often disregard the mental strain the work to achieve all those “priorities” will cause on me. My priority has effectively been on everything but myself. The question now is not what your priority is, but why are you not your priority?

For me, the answer to the question was simply that my happiness is not going to get me through college. It is not going to finish my overdue assignments. In my experience, Taking a “mental health day” has caused me more stress since the assignments pile on. Then, I spend the day catching up on the work that caused me to take the day off, instead of focusing on myself. My ability to work through my anxieties, and the trembling shake I have when I overcome a task I’m nervous for, makes me stronger. I may not be well, but my mental health can wait until after high school. It can wait until after college. But in the back of my mind, I have to ask myself why, out of all the things I have to do, why, focusing on myself is the last and least important action I take.

Various high schoolers feel the same as I do. I feel that I am pressured to succeed and that my worth and ability to be successful depends on what work I get done or what college I get into. While well-meaning parents push their children to pursue their hopes and dreams, sometimes the push turns into a shove. However, sometimes the greatest stressor and pusher turns out to be none other than ourselves. We, teens, are hypercritical of ourselves. We judge everything that we do. We psychoanalyze every answer that we give to least offend, or impress the people we’re talking, too. We reply that school is our No. 1 priority because that’s what we were taught to believe, and what we repeated to ourselves when we were lost within ourselves. School is your priority. Get good grades. Do not skip class. College will be better.

The reality of it all is, life is ultimately what we make it. Your priorities, although they should be focused in and around academic success, are not only just about school. While it is an institution of education, and that is what you should be doing, learning is about having fun. Life is about enjoyable experiences. Our priorities, above school, should be on ourselves. We should not be putting school above all, no matter the cost, because we are the cost. I should not lose myself in a towering mountain of paper and online assignments. I should not be stressing about my future plan on what I can do to succeed for the next four years, forgetting about what’s happening now. While my education is important, my mental health and its stability are vastly more important.

In the end, when asked what your priorities are, they should be about school, but in the list of most to least important, you should be at the top. After all, there is only one of you.