As a student at Palo Alto High school, I spend a grand total of one hour doing my Advanced Placement U.S. History, Math and Honors English homework. I am able to maintain my 4.0 GPA while excelling at my extracurriculars while still having time on the side to hang out with friends. Wait a minute. Now, I am no expert, but I feel comfortable saying that this is mathematically impossible. How do I do it then? There’s the catch: I don’t.

Like many other Paly students, I have caught myself grossly under-exaggerating the amount of effort it takes for me to get the grades I want. There’s no reason to waste our limited time and energy creating this facade. Most of us would say it’s much “cooler” to be a hard worker who perseveres and gets good grades, no matter how much time it may take, but come on. Such a fantasy is unrealistically optimistic on the battlefield of high school. So, as students, we resort to abiding by our teenage impulses that tell us it’s “cool” to overachieve and that you’re smarter if you get good grades with as little effort as possible. But this system is flawed and leads to unrealistic expectations for students. It’s time to realize that “coolness” has no relation to our academic strengths and weaknesses; we need to change our attitude towards effort and be honest about our struggles.

As high schoolers, we are emotionally wired to be insecure and may resort to lying to fit in. A moment will come the next morning in math class, when your pal asks how long the homework took you: a brief moment of panic ensues for the mathematically uninclined. When confronted by such a situation, we students escape back to the comfort of our instinctual need for acceptance, but forget that such a decision is hopelessly guided by the confused beliefs of the teenage psyche. I go with 45 minutes over the honest three hours.

Why? I know how long the assignment should’ve taken and shudder when I compare it to my own experience. If I tell the truth, it’ll be painfully obvious that I am struggling — that I’m not reaching Paly “standards.” But I have come to realize nobody cares whether homework takes you 15 minutes or five hours.  I don’t owe anyone anything, and creating insurmountable expectations for myself only leads to exhaustion.

I learned this the hard way first semester in my Physics class. By the first week, I could already tell that I was in trouble, but I refused to admit it to anyone and kept grinding through the work. The first test came up, and I studied for hours, but even after my hard work I could’ve predicted the unfavorable outcome. I was stubborn and in denial about my situation; the entire semester, I pretended that physics was a breeze. My friends and parents only knew what I told them, and my grade suffered terribly from my unwillingness to ask for help. When preparations for the final were underway, the pressure was on to prove everything I had been claiming all semester. After cracking open my textbook and starting to review, one thing became painfully apparent: I had completely screwed myself over. After asking for extra time because I knew I would need it, I ended up going into the final 40 minutes early and was still the last to finish in my class, using the entire two hours. The experience was humiliating, and was not worth the extra hours of cramming. Please learn from my painful mistakes: Be honest and get help when you need it.

Paly’s ultra-competitive environment fosters an unwillingness to seek help. It’s a competition of intelligence, quantified by who can master a certain topic in the least amount of time. However, studying time is completely subjective to every person’s strengths and weaknesses. What takes me one hour may take someone else three hours or vice versa. So instead of staying up all night trying to make it through one assignment, ask a friend or teacher for help, and for once, actually get a good night’s rest. Your self worth has nothing to do with how long you spend taking APUSH notes.