Recently, I was asked the question, “If there was one thing you wish you had known as a freshman, what would it be?”
I thought about this probably harder than I should have. The person who asked the question had posed it as a generic series of interview questions for a small segment in the yearbook. They certainly weren’t riveted by what the answer might be. The student body also wasn’t going to rifle through their yearbooks to find the answer to that simple question.
Still, it wouldn’t leave my mind.
I thought about myself in freshman form. I acted confident then, but in secret, I definitely was not. I did well in school, but just well enough. Clubs held no interest, nor did sports. When things did not go my way, it was because of a parent, a friend or a teacher. Never was I at fault — oh no, not even when everyone looking could see that I was in the wrong.
Since then, I think I’ve made some changes — I hope so, anyway. Looking back, though, I can pretty much boil it down to this: entitlement vs. accountability.
I felt entitled as a freshman. I was entitled to an A and, if I received a lower grade, it was because my teacher didn’t like me, or because they expected too much of me. I was entitled to a messy bedroom — it was my space and my floor that you couldn’t see because of clothes scattered across it, and my parents shouldn’t have a say. I was entitled to all of the privileges that my older siblings had and I was, more than anything else, entitled to whine if I didn’t get them. I was a victim. It was so much more convenient that way — the minimal amount of effort with as much result as I could milk from it with my pitiful tales of woe.
Being a victim is easy. If I asked for sympathy as a freshman, there was always someone there to give it. As an adult, it’s all too simple to demand money, or some other compensation, with an attitude of righteous indignation.
What if I — perish the thought — acknowledged that my parents had the right to ask that my bedroom, within the house that they paid for, was tidy? Or realized that if I wanted a good grade, I must earn it? It felt much freer as a freshman, to be able to pass off all of my shortcomings as negative circumstances surrounding my actions.
To be honest, I have realized more shortcomings — more follies, more failures — in my life now than I ever did then. Why? I wondered about that. Why, when I tried harder, did I fail more? I recognize now, though, that I may fail more, but only because I try more. And the ratio of wins now vs. wins then? Incomparable.
I don’t hold myself accountable because it is a duty or a responsibility, even though, as a good citizen, it is. I do it because I am more successful, healthier, and, overall much happier when I do. When I fall short, it may smart a little to claim responsibility. However, it more than makes up for it when I find success and can claim that I did it.
Accountability is not a negative thing. It’s actually the other way around. It’s about choice — and learning to accept the results or consequences of choice. Consequences, like accountability, often get a bad name. However, the sweetness of good consequences, and the satisfaction in the moments when you are accountable for your successes, far outweigh the embarrassment of accountability in times of failure.
That is not to say that I have become 100 percent a self starter, always eagerly taking responsibility for my actions. I have just as much of a tendency to play the victim as anyone. I still want to blame my bad test scores as a chronic inability to do math, and my lack of skill in sports as poor, hand-eye coordination. However, those are also the times that I feel the least happy and the least able.
Yes, if I could go back to my freshman self and tell her anything, it would be this: you are not a victim. Had freshman Siera started practicing accountability then, I might be better at it now. Gosh, it’s all her fault.
Siera Gomez is a senior at Stansbury High School.