Dear friend who is frantically practicing her presentation at lunch;

Dear girl in my class who is so overwhelmed that she hasn’t started this assignment yet even though it’s due at the end of the period;

Dear boys sitting in the hall at lunch, giving up time with your friends to study for your exams;

Dear high school students who feel stressed beyond belief about final assignments, exams, and their futures;

You are going to be okay. I know your assignments and exams are worth ten, twenty, or thirty percent of your final mark; I know you believe your future depends on those marks. You need a good mark to be accepted into your dream program, so you can be accepted to your dream college or university, so you can get your dream job, so you can live your dream life.

That is all true – but it’s a problematic view to take on life. If you’re always looking to the future, you disregard the present. Your life doesn’t begin when you graduate from school and get a job. Your life has already begun. This, the present, right now, is your life.

Those hours you spend staring at a textbook, at the Times New Roman size 12 double spaced essay on your screen, blur together until the sun falls and rises and it’s a new day. It’s easy to fill your waking hours with school and forget that anything else exists. Obviously, it’s important to use some of your life now to prepare for your life later. But far too often as students we get caught up in preparing for later – and we forget to live now.

Sometimes we feel unhappy in the present, because we’re working towards something that promises to make us happy in the future. The promise of future happiness, though, is a lie. If you know me in real life, that sentence may seem strange – you know I’m an optimist, and an avid pursuer of happiness. But it’s true. Because here’s exactly what happens. The future is going to roll around, and it’s not going to be the shining golden moment you expected. It’s going to feel suspiciously like… the present (because – spoiler alert – it will be the present).

Even in the future when we’ve graduated and obtained a job, we’ll be wanting more. We’ll want to advance further in our careers, to travel more, to have the new iPhone (by that point, they’ll be at the iPhone 32). When we’re not happy in the present we cure our need for contentedness by assuring ourselves we’ll be satisfied in the future.

In school we learn what mark we need on our exam to raise our overall average. We learn how long we need to study for in order to get a good mark. What we don’t always learn is how to stay afloat in a sea of homework and tests and studying and assignments. We aren’t reminded of the value of living in the present, or the importance of our mental wellbeing. We learn that stress is normal; we have a culture of bags under our eyes being the equivalent of prizes representing how hard we worked; we equate the amount of sleep we get with how successful we are (with a smaller amount of sleep representing a higher amount of success).

As students, we often have a skewed version of success. We’re focused on the success we want in the future and what we can do in the present to achieve that success. That’s fine – success doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work . But happiness can happen in the present, and it doesn’t require a crazy amount of effort; we don’t have wait for the future to be happy.

Students, exams are important. But this is your life. Don’t spend so much time focusing on the happiness and success you want someday that you forget about the happiness you could have today. Like I said earlier; I know exams are important. I don’t dispute that. But they don’t define your future – so don’t allow them to define your present.