From kindergarten to my senior year, school was always the same for me. I showed up, paid attention, got good grades, and went home. That’s it. I remember coming home and my mom asking what homework I had, but I had already done it in class before the teacher was done talking. I was always on honor roll, and my teachers always loved me. I never learned to study, because I never had to. As a kid, I never played sports, I wasn’t exceptionally cute, I didn’t have a special talent, but I had school. I had my grades. I couldn’t wait for my report card to come out, so I could take it home because I knew my parents would be so proud of me. My grandparents would call and praise me for how well I was doing and sometimes I would even get money for my good grades.
My life was like this for twelve years. My thirteenth year of school, my senior year of high school, I decided to take AP Calculus. I have always loved math, so I knew it would be a breeze. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
Calculus didn’t seem that bad when it first started, but when the first test came around, everything changed. My grade wasn’t what it should have been, and I was mad because I knew I could’ve done better. In my frustration, I walked down the hallway before class and talked to some younger students. I said in a dramatic and mildly sarcastic way, “Guys, don’t take calculus. It will ruin your life.” The teacher of that class heard me, got my teacher, and brought her to me and the other students. My calculus teacher then proceeded to write questions on the board I missed on the test and said, “Well I’m sure it wouldn’t ruin their lives because they might actually be able to get some easy test questions right.”
I was crushed. She exposed me. I was known as the “smart kid” and it felt as if she took that from me in less than a minute. I remember getting in my car after school and bursting into tears. Let’s just say that things did not improve from there. I couldn’t tell any one this for a long time or even say it out loud, but I failed high school calculus.
Everything I had ever known changed for me. My teacher didn’t love me, my grade wasn’t an A, no one was praising me for my grades. I didn’t know what to do. I felt lost. What I didn’t realize at that time was my identity was in the wrong place. For years I placed my value and identity in how well I did in school, but that was so unhealthy.
Since senior year calculus, college has not been easy. I’ve had to retake a class and I’ve had a situation that hurt me right in this spot, and that’s why I’m sharing this. I know I can’t continue to put my identity in my grades.
Last semester I took Organic Chemistry. It was by far the hardest class I’ve ever taken. Guess what … I made a D in Organic Chemistry. Once I finished the class, I heard from several people that one of my tests (that I MAJORLY failed) was seen by everyone in my class as well as the other O-Chem class. People were saying hurtful things behind my back that confirmed by biggest fear. I wasn’t smart. I haven’t felt hurt like that in a long time. I was once again exposed. I feel as if when people see me, they don’t see my humor or cute curly hair or heart for Jesus or character, I feel like they see an idiot and a failure.
To some people, this may not be a big deal, but I sit here writing with tears in my eyes because sharing this with others is so hard. This is where I must be vulnerable in order to change my way of thinking. For so long I have based my happiness and self-worth on whether people think I'm smart. I want people to like me, and through the years I have formed a warped mindset that people like me based on how smart I was. Sharing this for anyone to see feels like walking around the mall naked. I feel exposed, embarrassed, and vulnerable.
I’m working so hard every day to reshape where I put my identity and what is true about me. I know that once I’m a doctor, no one will care what my high school GPA was or that I failed calculus or had to retake Organic Chemistry. I know that at the end of the day, I am loved by the God that created the Universe, an amazing family, and a tight group of friends. I also know I am smart. Grades do not define my intelligence and what others say or think about me does not matter.