When I was seventeen years old, you told me, “Look you’re smart, and pretty and talented and you work hard. You have all the makings of someone who will be very successful in life. But you are the only person who can’t see it.”
My view of my own potential was hindered because I was using the same old metric to assess my success as an individual—how well I did in school.
And I could go on a rant about how I am a product of an education system that has encouraged me to develop my identity around my academic success, but the truth is that the system exists no matter how I feel about it and for the purposes of what I’m trying to convey in this post is less relevant.
Now that I am officially out of my teenage years, I cope with anxiety a lot better. I rarely have anxiety attacks anymore and I know how to tackle them. The years have also made me realize how underrated anxiety and the exhaustion it can cause is. Too many of my friends experience more-than-healthy levels of anxiety regularly, which they dismiss as a weakness that must be overcome, because this is the narrative they are told. To be strong always—and remember to take a rest once in a while—but actually just be strong always.
My observations of my peers tell me that there is nothing more that the people of my generation fear than failure—and they’re really most afraid about failing in school. So why does the metric of academic success continue to haunt us into adulthood, into our university days? I hear what you say about how grades don’t matter and define me, but I’m not really listening. Why are we so devastated by a “B”? Why is anything less than excellence unacceptable? I am not alone in my perfectionism and I can tell you that we are an exhausted bunch of young people.
My peers and I have reached an age where we we’ve sorta, kinda established our strengths. We’ve learnt dance for long enough to be confident enough to perform at concerts. We have enough faith in our abilities to do some freelance writing and designing in our free time and play varsity sports. In a few years, we will enter the workforce, a place in which what we scored for a mid-term test in year 2 will not matter. Yet, we consistently measure our success by the same narrow metric of academic success, that we’ve fashioned in our minds to only celebrate at a grade close to perfection—everything else, is cutely termed a “good effort” which everyone knows is probably in real terms, worth less than a consolation trophy.
It is hard to be vulnerable. Nobody wants to talk about it and I can tell you that I have never met more talented people who I respect deeply, but doubt their value as human beings because they don’t get straight “A”s. This in my opinion is the greatest tragedy of my generation. Educated, intelligent people whose talent goes to waste because they use a metric to quantify and measure their lives, that’s really, really outdated.