Normally I write posts about technical things here. But I deeply regret a big mistake I made in high school, and I feel like writing about it here to help whoever it may.
When I entered Tigard High School in 9th grade, I was very proud that I already knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a software engineer. Wishing to prove my programming competency to the doubtful high school's technology teacher, I joined the robotics team and wrote a simple program to control a pre-built robot. He was very surprised that a freshman—one who hadn't taken his classes yet—was able to program. I continued to contribute and participate in the robotics program up until my junior year.
Once I had demonstrated my aptitude for software development during my freshman year, what kept me in the program was my belief that being able to put "robotics team - 4 years" on my resume would get me into colleges. Motivated by my desire to build my resume, I participated in numerous other school-sponsored extracurricular activities over the years. But during the summer before my senior year while planning out which colleges I should apply to, I realized that all of that time spent throughout high school was an utter waste of time.
First, let's consider which of the following students a college would prefer: a teenager who watched TV and played video games for four years, or one who is involved in the school's swim team, technology club, debate team, etc? Of course, they would prefer the latter. Did the teenager who watched TV have the same opportunity to participate in school-sponsored extracurriculars? Yes, likely so. But he or she chose not to.
But also, it is a difficult decision for a college to make between two of the cliché 'involved teenagers'; the only aspect the school can base their decision off of is academics (i.e. GPA and standardized testing scores). Likewise, if there are two students with perfect academics, schools must base the decision off of extracurricular involvement. So, to pick a few hundred applicants out of the tens of thousands, it becomes a crapshoot. Decisions essentially become random.
Are academics and school involvement good indicators of post-graduate career success? Of course, successful alumni bring good names to their schools. Colleges desire students who have potential for success. But, which shows more potential for success: a student with a perfect GPA, or a student with a potential entry salary of six figures?
Most schools wouldn't appreciate a student who changes degrees bi-weekly. Additionally, most schools wouldn't appreciate a student who fails every class he takes. From a school's perspective, the ideal student is one who passes classes then lives a successful life thereby bringing a name to the school.
Extracurricular activities show neither of those aspects as well as proficient academic performance and proof that the student has a purpose.
Much like the lazy teenager had the opportunity to be an involved teenager, the involved student had the opportunity to contribute to him or herself. What the involved student should've done—what I should've spent more time doing is developing myself and my passion for my interests.
I thought I knew what I wanted to do, and I did develop myself in that I gained knowledge relating to software security. But had I dedicated those hours and days to teaching myself new concepts and gaining skill, I would have much more to show for it, and I would benefit so much more from it in the future.
In 10 years, I'm not going to look back and think "man, I am sure grateful that I made the robot throw balls into the basket in 9th grade." But I will absolutely be grateful that spent my valuable time learning how to pwn things. Because, time is valuable. Don't waste it on activities that won't help you in the long run—especially in high school. Find out what you want to do in your life, and get good.
One of the most important aspects of my personality is how much I value productivity and efficiency. I make myself happy by creating value.
Despite what you may believe about me after reading this—that I am a boring workaholic who can't have fun—I don't believe that every moment should be spent doing work. Every moment of life has the potential to be valuable. Working is valuable. Developing yourself is valuable. Spending time with friends and family is valuable. But wasting time on activities that do not help you—distractions like useless school activities, TV, and social media—produces no value.
There is only so much time you have in your life, so whether it means creating or improving something, learning a new skill or idea, or building memories with friends and family, you should strive to be as useful and productive as possible in everything you do. If it doesn't develop you, get rid of it. Get ahead of everyone.