High School to University: Lessons in Pumping Yourself Up

Dancing Elephants Press Book Project Prompt Motivation

Anjali Joshi
Dancing Elephants Press
5 min readJul 17, 2022


Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

High school is a major turning point in life. You decide where you want to go from there. You decide if it’s worth going elsewhere instead of the place you’ve always envisioned yourself going. You also decide if you don’t want to go anywhere from there. It’s a lot of decisions to make — and your poor little, overwhelmed brain that tries to make these choices is bound to have a meltdown.

That’s what happened five years back.

I had spent all of high school envisioning a med school future with my parents when at the end of my final year, I realised I didn’t really want to go down that path anymore. A lot of things happened. I had ugly experiences, met horrible people who were set on the path and were never going to falter, and I couldn’t believe that this was the future I was planning to throw myself into.

It was a world full of selfish, self-serving, cold-hearted people, and these people would be my classmates a few months down the line. The coaching institute that tried to prepare me for the med school entrance tests told me that this selfishness was good. That you had to look just right ahead and prepare; the girl next to you crying and having a breakdown is not your responsibility and ultimately, you’re not here for “life experiences.” You were there to study. Period.

I envisioned my peers who took this advice to heart and scored well on all the preparatory tests making it to these premier institutions. Then what? They’d repeat the same old patterns they had internalised over the recent past because, let’s face it — med school isn’t easy.

This broke my heart. And my belief system.

They said doctors were here to serve. But here was a State forcing students to lose that very serving mentality of their humanity before they became doctors because of an insanely difficult entrance test. And the acceptance rate? Between 0.1 to 0.25 per cent (MacAskill). For a population-dense country like India, this is brutal. And kids just kept getting worse, dangerously competitive and suicidal as they put everything in their life on hold to get past the hurdle of this entrance test.

Did I want to go there? Yes. But did I believe I’d live to see the day I could call myself a doctor? No. So, I withdrew.

It was difficult to reel out of this. I had spent an entire year after high school thinking this is where I had to go, and by the end of it, I had taken a complete 180-degree turn.

Fortunately, another unexpected option opened itself before me during this time. This was a luxury I’m sure not many people could have achieved. I cleared the entrance test for one of the most reputed language learning institutions in my country. However, this meant choosing the humanities over the sciences, and for my scientifically inclined parents, this was a massive change to digest.

The years that followed were difficult. My self-esteem had significantly suffered after high school. I had what some people today call “Honor Roll Hangover”, and the relationship with my parents was getting murkier by the day (Wilding). Don’t get me wrong, the humanities is an amazing field. But where I come from, ‘honor roll students’ become doctors and engineers. They don’t go for a B.A. or an M.A., especially not in English.

When everyone around you believes that the path you chose for yourself is a dead end, you start believing that what awaits you at the end of your degree will be a mediocre job and a sad life while your engineer and doctor friends sit on plush leather chairs in air-conditioned offices.

My mindset had to change. And I had to do it for my sanity.

As much as an unmotivated mess I was, I was finally able to get help from a professional. I had a lot of homework to do, and most of it was on myself. My self-esteem needed a big warm hug, and I made efforts to become friends with my mother again. Most of all, I realised that making nonsense equations like “professional degree equals safe career” can get me nowhere.

It may or may not be true, but I am responsible for not giving up on the effort before even trying. I owe myself at least that, but this is a thought that can come to me only when I love myself, and I’m more forgiving to myself.

It is true, some of us don’t have the privilege to take a step back and calm down. It is an important process in order to feel motivated at every step of your life. That’s when compassion comes to play.

Perhaps the very focused kid in the coaching institute cut herself off from everything else in life because it was a that-or-nothing situation for her. Perhaps if my class coordinator had not publicly humiliated me for my grades and chosen to be kind, I may have not lost my faith in humanity at the time.

Everything happens for a reason, and I think that’s where we need to derive our motivation from. That faith we place in ourselves matters a lot. As children, we depend heavily on our parents, friends, siblings or even teachers to pump our spirits when all seems low.

However, the turf changes when you’re an adult: you’ll have to do it for yourself more often than others, with more frequency. Mental health may come and kick you in the guts, and the going gets tougher than usual, but that’s okay. Life happens, and so will you.

Thank you so much to editors Lady Dr. Gabriella Korosi, Sharing Randomly and Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles for keeping us motivated throughout this book project. I think it’s beautiful to end it with the ‘Motivation’ prompt.

What you see below is my author’s bio for the same project if it’s your first time coming across my content. Do check it out:

You can also check out Melody Wilding, LMSW’s work on Highly Sensitive People:

Works Cited:

MacAskill, Andrew. “Special Report: Why India’s medical schools are plagued with fraud.” Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-medicine-education-specialrepor-idUSKBN0OW1NM20150617. Accessed 16 July 2022.

Wilding, Melody. “Honor roll hangover: How being an overachiever can hurt your career.” https://melodywilding.com/how-being-an-overachiever-can-come-back-to-bite-you/#:~:text=What%20is%20the%20Honor%20Roll,being%20a%20%E2%80%9Cgood%E2%80%9D%20student. Accessed 16 July 2022.



Anjali Joshi
Dancing Elephants Press

Indian. Lazy English major and part-time book hoarder |Currently grappling with my student and writer alter-egos.