Credit: Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash
Credit: Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

Academic Validation

By Anonymous

Who are you beyond the grade?

The one thing that I have been praised for more than anything else is how clever I am. From being one of the first in my year three class to attain pen licence knighthood, to achieving a solid string of not-so-shabby A-level grades; I have been rolling in academic validation. And I lapped it up, I mean who wouldn’t? Teenagerdom struck me like a boy racer’s Ford Focus to a lamp post and so did all the anxieties that came part and parcel with academic excellence. 

My existence as an insecure teenage girl who was socially inept and unable to graduate to a B-cup quickly caused my love for studying to transgress into a deep and unhealthy fixation. External validation was the only thing I felt I could anchor any sense of self-esteem to. No longer was satisfaction achieved from the mere self-assurance that I was able and capable. Instead, the voracious need for perfection, and more specifically the acknowledgment of said perfection, took the wheel.

Ironically enough, I was far from perfect. While, on the one hand, I excelled at the humanities and arts, I couldn’t quite get the application of the quadratic formula and the rest of the STEM down to a T. As expected this did a number on my self-esteem. Therefore, until I was freed from the shackles of GCSE maths and science, the burden of inadequacy weighed down on me heavily.

From this point forward, my life’s purpose was no longer to live in anguish over my GCSE grades. After three arduous years, finally, a new goal was in sight. The hankering for academic praise led to me entering into a highly competitive degree to fully satisfy it. In actuality, working in this field seemed rather unappealing – a sentiment was affirmed only months into my degree.

My first year numbed my mind to a level akin to chronic paraesthesia. Finally, something outweighed my need for academic praise. Logically it was time to slide myself out of that degree before I was cemented in for the next four years and find something more enriching. The fresh feeling of liberation from a second set of (admittedly self-imposed) shackles was on the horizon. Yet, surprise surprise, this was short-lived. I was quickly back in handcuffs once more as the feeling of inadequacy reared its ugly head. Now settled in a new and more enjoyable degree, which I had decided would land me less praise than the previous, I was riddled with guilt. I believed I had severed any opportunity to live up to my ‘full potential’.

What on earth was this ‘full potential’ I was completely obsessed with? Was it worth overriding what I enjoy? But what did I really enjoy? After taking more than one sizable step back and looking at the way I viewed myself, and how I wanted to be viewed, it dawned on me that it was difficult to discern joy from my day-to-day existence. The warped mindset that I had come to form – this need not only to be good at everything but also have others say “Hey! isn’t she great at everything?” – permeated every aspect of my life. I realised that my yearning to be number one extended to leisure pursuits. Leisure no longer equated to pleasure.

The belief system I had so tirelessly fabricated to make myself happier was doing the inverse. I was flagging under some poorly constructed coping mechanism used to find the approval I couldn’t attain from my peers during adolescence. I can’t say I was the biggest fan of this newfound discovery, however, once this realisation had risen to the surface, suppressing everything again was near impossible. Unfortunately, there is no story of an overnight epiphany where I wake up one morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, overflowing with a sudden sense of intrinsic worth and love for being just me. Not to throw in a corny cliché or anything, but learning to love and accept yourself for who you are is a slow but albeit necessary journey. A journey that I am still on (cringe!). 

So, as I sit here and reflect on my emotional metamorphosis, it’s evident that whatever had such a gorilla grip on me in my formative years, and to some extent today, was the consequence of some undeniably subpar self-esteem. Most of the time, a double take is still necessary to remind myself that I have never just been my academic performance and that diminishing myself as such will not and has not done me any favours. Yes, it may have taken me around a decade to reach that conclusion but better late than never I say! And I’m definitely not the only one who has felt their worth contingent on success as, societally, there is an emphasis on valuing achievement over personal well-being. Just look at the phenomena of “tiger parenting” and “hot housing.” 

No matter what you have or haven’t achieved in life, and no matter who knows it, being miserable to prove yourself is just never worth it. At the end of the day, there will always be so much to you beyond the grade.


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