What I Learned from Suffering Through Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

Isabella Bennett, Editor-in-Chief

My high school experience could be compared to the reading of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: torturously long. If you never have to read this novel for an English class, don’t. After the second chapter on whale anatomy (there’s six), you really do start to question if any of that information is meaningful. You begin to question your life decisions. You wish a whale-line would come and drag you overboard and end your misery.

As I look back on how MHS has shaped my identity today, I am grateful for all the ups and downs these past four years have brought me. The greatest lesson I learned, which I wish I had known as a freshman, is self-empathy. It may seem like your whole world revolves around academics and good grades so you can get into college, and while that is important, it shouldn’t be your number one priority.

Mental health is a big concern in the Minnetonka community and it can be attributed to many factors, but the monumental academic stress is a big one for some students. I like to think of the perfect GPA as the white whale: in one’s attempt to pursue it, they slowly destroy themselves (as did Captain Ahab).

My sophomore year, as I battled a previously undiagnosed chronic illness on top of trying to achieve good grades and participate in extracurriculars, I put myself on a path of destruction. So many students joke about how they’re sacrificing their own well-being for the good of academics, but it shouldn’t be something so commonplace.

One of the best decisions I’ve made was enrolling as a PSEO student. Instead of feeling pressured to renounce sleep and set-aside time for personal reflection, I found myself in an environment where I was given more control over my education. Reading assignments and arduous packets turned into the assumption you would find your own way to master the material.

While classes were challenging, I was given expansive free time. I could set aside studying for when it worked best for me instead of being stressed 24/7. There was no pressure to be better than anyone else; everyone cared more about their own academics than wondering how much sleep you didn’t get in order to write an essay or cram for a unit test.

PSEO allowed me to focus on myself and my health for once, and, more importantly, I began to live in the present. That’s not to say that I still don’t have anxiety about my future after graduation and then some. And, dual-enrollment isn’t for everyone, because it can isolate someone from the social aspect of high school. Yet, sometimes that’s exactly what people need. Getting away from the toxic culture of self-sacrifice for achievement helped me learn more about what it means to be self-empathetic.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Do not beat yourself up over it. Even though it’s easier said than done, the best thing you can do is learn how to move on. Don’t always push yourself to be better; celebrate your accomplishments in the moment. Go out with your friends on the weekend and destress for a few hours to reward yourself for trying. There are so many colleges and universities, and there is a school that’s the right fit for you. Even if you have your mind set on one as an underclassman, it’ll likely change once you begin your college search as a junior.

There’s no need to always criticize yourself or believe that you’re not good enough or could’ve tried harder. Forgive yourself if you make mistakes, accept that mistakes are a part of life, and you’re not the only one who makes them.

Self-empathy is all about not comparing yourself to others. Trying to achieve higher than some perceived “average” is simply impossible; we all can’t be above perfect. Break away from the cult of the average, and you’ll begin to see that each individual has their own strengths and passions in life. Pushing yourself to constantly improve will destroy your mental health in the long run. Instead of chasing the white whale, be mindful that you’re always going to be chasing something for the rest of your life with that kind of mindset. And, with all the emphasis on the recurring motif of death in Moby-Dick, maybe it is time for all of us to take a step back.

Otherwise, only I am escaped alone to tell thee.