by Karylle Panorel | November 21, 2021
Society has taught us that a failing grade means a lack of intelligence and is a source of disappointment for our parents. In short, game over. But, is it really?
Academic stress, academic validation, and academic burnout are three concepts that most of us are all too familiar with. The overwhelming need to succeed in school, which leads to the idea that we are failures with no true future, is a crippling concept.
There seems to be a misconception that to be the greatest of the best, we must struggle as much as we can. Otherwise, we have no worth and do not deserve any achievement we do get.
Why do we do this? Why do we need to overwork ourselves to feel like a good student? Why do we believe we’re not doing enough unless we’re in agony or overburdened with work or responsibilities?
We may have varied backgrounds from which we built this kind of mindset, but it all comes down to one thing: comparison.
It may have begun in high school when classmates compare grades on a math test or perhaps an English essay. Comparison shatters our ego. It puts us in a race to achieve the highest mark in the class or the most certificates by the time we graduate.
While some people don’t consider their acquaintances as competition, some people continuously take extra classes, join as many clubs and societies as they can, and look for as many work-study opportunities in the hopes that it will make them feel as if they’re worth something.
This toxic mindset stemmed from the high-achieving atmosphere in which students were nurtured. It is almost completely driven by the desire to get admittance to the top of the best universities, laying the foundation for unquestionable success, and be at a higher level than the person which you or your parents compare yourself to. Even if some would argue that grades do not define anybody, at the end of the day, society still believes that grades will determine our fate. And this seed has been planted in our minds, spreading like poison, tainting all of our thoughts, and unfortunately drastically decreasing our sense of self-worth.
We frequently look for our worth in every corner of the room, in every soul we meet, in the grade percentage on our tests, when the truth is that we have it since the moment we won the race in our mother’s womb. Linking our worth to our academic success can lead to a miserable, endless loop.
It’s something I can relate to, and I know other people who would as well.
The first vivid memory I have of questioning my worth is when I was only 12 years old. I sat in a science class, terrified of not getting a perfect mark on my test after failing a high school entrance exam. Yes, after about a year and a half of reviewing, I failed my first high school entrance exam. The school I applied to was my first and only choice; it was all or nothing for me. People expected me to get into that prestigious school, but I didn’t. I didn’t know how to deal with defeat and disappointment back then, and it’s something I’m still working on. I despised the feeling of being unworthy, so I set a high standard for myself from that day forward. Failure equates to being unworthy.
The will to prove myself to everyone lingered throughout my junior high school years. My grades were good, and my extracurricular activities were also great; I achieved all I dreamt to accomplish, but each time I added anything to my list of achievements, I always felt a surge of worthiness. However, my self-satisfaction did not last long. I was immediately on to the next assignment, proving to myself (and others) that I was worthy.
Years passed and I was still running in the same circle. It took me five years to realize that I need to redefine my sense of self-worth. I realized that basing my worth through one accomplishment after another was making me more miserable than getting little to no victories. I had to learn that my worth extends well beyond what I can prove through achievement. I had to understand that I am worthy because I exist and nothing else.
We scrape, search, and crave to earn validation through our academics so that we may still be worthy of love and attention, but the thing is it won’t and will never fill the void. Seeking validation through visible achievements will only lead us further away from the fact that we are worthy. Achievements won’t and will never change who we are at our core.
For years, I also have been running around circles trying to redefine my self-worth through my academic performance. Growth eventually tells us that we do not need validation from others, but we were young and we were too blind to see our self-worth that does not have to be proven all along. We are worthy from the very beginning. But since the poison was planted in our mindset, it may take time (at least for me) to convince ourselves that failures are just part of the journey and growth.