“Mark, Jessica, Sophia and Jill, can you please come up here?” Mrs. Blau, my sixth grade math teacher said. As my peers walked up to teacher’s desk, she promptly handed them a blue envelope with a big smile on her face. “Good job guys! I’m sure you will do great next year,” she exclaimed.
Back at their desks, the four quickly dug into the envelopes, discovering that they were chosen to skip Pre-Algebra, the typical seventh grade course, to instead enroll in Algebra 1, the eighth grade math class, based on their results from an earlier placement test. As they shared the good news with those around them, the class was submerged in whispers proclaiming the envelope recipients as the “smart kids” of the grade based off of one test score.
I was crushed. I poured over math practice books in preparation for the placement test in hopes of skipping a math level and more importantly appearing somehow “more intelligent” to my peers. Even though I put my best foot forward, I failed, or so I thought.
I believed that I was not smart enough for not only advanced math, but also for a good college. I had grown up with the mindset that if I was not the best or able to achieve a certain standard, I would not be able to get into a “good school.”
In my head, not being accepted by one of these top universities signaled a downward spiral towards not being hired into a good job with adequate pay or benefits that would ultimately translate into a life of failure and disappointment.
This mindset amplified as I entered high school. Anytime I received a B on a test, I felt like I failed. As classes became more demanding, more B’s appeared at the top of my assignments, further lowering my self esteem. I would still get A’s, but it was never enough. An A still did not mean I was the best in the class, nor did it secure me a spot at a university. I began to set impossible expectations for my academics and I would beat myself up if I was unable to achieve them.
When I was in ninth grade, I received my first C on a test. After being marked with my own scarlet letter, I burst into tears, thinking my life was over. Seeing my emotional outburst, my Algebra 2 teacher came over to see what was wrong. I tried to justify why I cared so much about a C with my whole achievement spiel, but I did not convince him. “If you get into a bad college, so what. If you don’t get a good job, so what. That does not mean you are not good enough,” Mr. Green said. I was stunned by those words.
I have been working my whole life towards getting into college and beating myself along the way, but what for? Not getting into an ivy league does not mean you are a bad person. Not becoming a doctor or lawyer does not mean you will not be successful. Not getting a perfect GPA is not the end of the world. The sun will rise again tomorrow and more opportunities await.
Working hard and pushing yourself is important, but pushing yourself to the point of hating yourself anytime you do not succeed is not worth it. Failure is inevitable. Just try your best and be proud of the results, no matter what they are.