It’s the most stressful time of the school year. First semester is coming to an end, but the assignments have no end in sight. Tension is at an all time high, and motivation at its lowest. As we face our final exams, our grades are the only thing on our minds. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the stress and forget that there are more important things in life than our GPA. I think we could all use a reminder that at the end of the day, our grades do not define us.
But why does this mentality consume us? Why is our intelligence based on our performance in school? Why is our happiness based off of a few numbers on a transcript? Do our grades really determine our success in life?
Think of all the celebrated people who have found success despite their poor performance in school. If Steve Jobs hadn’t dropped out of college, the genius designs of Apple may have never been invented. Albert Einstein, who was deemed “mentally inept” as a child, went on to become the most famous physicist in history. These two brilliant minds are regarded as the greatest innovators in their fields, but were once considered incompetent as students.
When we first entered school around the age of 5, there was a much different approach to education. Creativity and imagination was rewarded. We treated art, music, and physical education as real subjects. Curiosity was praised and learning was fun. But soon, there was a shift.
Getting good grades came easily to me at first. I developed a passion for reading and writing, which my teachers actively encouraged. My creativity flowed and my imagination had room to flourish. I was a diligent worker and always took my time on assignments, wanting them to be just right. But I soon realized that my learning style would not always be catered to.
In middle school, we were placed into different “tracks” based on how well we did on a test. We were labeled as average, above average, or below average. I was placed in the higher track with other “smart” kids, and our teachers expected a lot more of us. I struggled a lot in certain subjects, finding myself unable to focus on things that didn’t interest me. My grades started slipping, and so did my confidence. For the first time in my life, I felt inferior to my peers. I felt that because I wasn’t achieving a certain grade, that I wasn’t smart.
This continued into high school as well. I did poorly in 8th grade algebra, so I decided to re-take it freshman year. I was finally learning at a comfortable pace and my grades were finally improving. But I still felt inferior to my peers who had moved ahead; that somehow my achievements were not as significant because I was taking an “easier” class.
As I got older, the pressure only intensified. School felt like one big competition of who had the best GPA, who was ranked the highest, and who was taking the hardest classes. Hearing my friends complain about getting an A minus in their advanced classes while I was struggling to maintain a C average in math made me feel pathetic. Students were told that they weren’t deserving of their class rank, just because they took easier classes. I constantly compared myself to my peers, always feeling like I was falling short.
I suppose I turned out just fine. I did well on my SATs, got accepted into some great schools, and found a major that I love. But when I think about all of the mental breakdowns, all of the teachers that doubted me, all of the classmates that laughed at me when I gave the wrong answer, and all of the times I left class to go cry in the bathroom, I question if it was all worth it. Did I really have to put myself under that much pressure to end up here?
College has felt like a relief compared to my previous academic career. The material is just as challenging, even more so, but somehow I am more interested and more motivated to learn. I worry about my grades a lot less than I used to. I have rediscovered my passion for so many subjects, and have allowed myself to be curious about new things again. The difference is the learning environment. School is no longer a competition. There is no winning or losing – only learning.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it this way. There are still those people that act as if science or business majors are the only ones that do work, and treat liberal arts majors like a joke. Our society looks down on those who pursue other interests instead of furthering their education. Going to school, getting a degree, and getting a job is the path that we’re supposed to follow. But it’s not the path for everyone, and that is okay. Not everyone wants to or is able to get an education, but that doesn’t make them unintelligent or lazy, and it does not mean that they can’t be successful in life.
This is not to say that education isn’t important. Getting an education is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It is an investment in your future, one that opens so many doors. But our society places perhaps too much importance on our performance in school. We let it determine our happiness, our ability, even our future success. Because we are so focused on whether someone has a degree or not, we lose focus on other important things like creativity, imagination, spirituality, and personality.
Everyone has different talents, abilities, and strengths – everyone learns differently. And just because you don’t do well in school doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. Or capable. Or worthy of success.
To the kids who dread going to school, but still love to learn. To the kids who are too shy to participate in class, but have ideas worth sharing. To the kids who would rather explore nature for themselves than read about it in a text book. To the students who struggle in the classroom, but excel in athletics. To the aspiring musician who is called foolish for following his dreams instead of pursuing a “real” career. This article is to express my respect and admiration for you. I know that you are capable of leading a happy and fulfilling life doing what you love, even if it doesn’t measure up to society’s standards. in the grand scheme of things, your grades are only a small factor in your life, and do not define you as a person.