Ah, high school…. The time in our lives where we cringe or reminisce whenever we think about it. I could sigh and look dreamily into the past at those four years and wish life was still as simple as it was back then, but in reality, high school was a source of anxiety and depression for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have some wonderful memories and there are aspects to it that I miss a lot, but when I think back on those four years all I see is a girl trying so hard to be someone she’s not. And every time I failed or fell short of success or “coolness” I felt like the biggest loser in the school.
One of the worst moments in my high school career was realizing I was never going to make it into the National Honors Society. Even now, three years later, I have a hard time even thinking about it. Trying so hard to prove to myself that I was smart and could do great things but not even being capable of making it into the stupid NHS club hit me in a sore spot I didn’t realize I even had. It wasn’t even that I was a bad student, I wasn’t even a great student. I was average. I really couldn’t have been any more average. If Average herself were to come up to me she would have had an identity crisis. I had high B’s and low A’s. Junior and senior year I felt like I was doing so much better in my classes. I was active in class and in clubs like band, chorus, Canta Sera, art club, yearbook, prom committee, key club (freshman year), drama club, and I was taking a few AP classes. I knew that in order to get into NHS I had to have an average of at least 90 or 92 (I can’t really remember anymore) and by late junior year and throughout senior year I had at least a 90 average. One by one I witnessed all of my friends (save for one) get their NHS letters in the mail and saw the pictures of their induction ceremonies. Every time I heard about it I wanted to be happy for them but all I felt was this sick, toxic feeling, like a hot blade, twisting in my gut.
In my mind I saw myself as a stupid person. Even writing that sentence just now puts a heavy lump in my throat. If I had to pick my biggest insecurity it is that I feel like I’m stupid and that I will never be good enough for anything. I’m afraid that I will always be average. I feel like I’m balancing on a thin ledge and if I make a mistake or fail an exam I’ll fall over and land on the “dumb” side. I’m afraid of being called a bimbo or a stupid white girl. Anytime someone talks down to me or corrects me I automatically feel defensive. Anytime I see someone I know accomplish something or do amazing things I automatically see the gaps in my life where I failed or only just made it by.
Freshman year of high school we had to do book presentations to the class for English and I chose a book about a girl living in a society where love was believed to be a disease. While that is cool and all I was really drawn to how the girl described herself. She said she was average. Not too tall, not too short. Hair not quite blonde, but not quite brown. Always did alright in school, but never excelled. Always in the background, just like me. I deeply identified with her. I was a borderline stupid person, unable to accomplish something in the eyes of the education system and I left like a fish flopping on land. I was so close to the water but the harder I tried to reach it the less I could breathe. And now I realize that I spent all my time reading YA books about girls who felt average but in the end realized their true potential. Today I realized I spend all my time reading romances because most of the time the heroine is just an average woman and yet something amazing happens to her. I'm a dreamer, hoping that if I can't make myself above-average, some outside magical source will.
Many of the things I do in my life are because I’m trying to figure out how to be more than average. And I’m not at the point yet where I can be okay with being normal. I still remember the fear and jealousy I felt when I found out my little sister got into NHS and how I just broke down sobbing and feeling like shit. I don’t think I had ever wanted anything so much in my life. I didn’t care that people told me the club meant nothing. I didn’t care that nobody really had to do anything after they were in it. I didn’t even care that colleges didn’t look too closely at that. It was like I had tested myself and failed in the worst way possible.
Freshman year of college I got into the Freshman National Honors Society and also got chosen as a first year scholar for my Anthropology major. And while I felt really good about being a first year scholar, I didn’t feel much of anything for the Freshman National Honors Society. And while I’ve only ever been on the President’s list or the Dean’s list throughout college, I don’t feel much pride or joy. I don’t feel like I accomplished anything. I feel like I’m half-assing all of it and just end up lucky. I’m not in any clubs. I spend very little time studying. I don’t even go to my professors’ office hours. I’m an average person making good enough grades to give the illusion that I'm a successful person. I don’t know if I feel this way because of my high school experience or if it is just who I am. I do know, however, that I am far from dumb. In the two and a half years I’ve been in college I’ve realized so many things about myself.
I’m not stupid by any means. I don’t think I ever was stupid. If I had more motivation and drive I could accomplish a lot more (this one hurts because I really don’t have the drive to do big things). College learning is a completely different universe than high school learning. High school doesn’t prepare you for college. I’m not really sure why it isn’t as accommodative for different learning styles as it could be. I felt stupid because I didn’t fit into a specific learning style; I was a puzzle piece that didn’t fit because I was in the wrong puzzle box, only I didn’t know it for 18 years. I can say with full certainty that I am not the only person who has felt that way.
For anyone out there reading this and feeling like you relate to my story, please know that you are not stupid. If you struggled in high school it is okay. High school was a blip. Hell, college is a blip. The things you do learn throughout life aren’t always going to be things learned in a classroom or by a professor. Knowledge and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive. To take it a step further, character/value of being and success are also not mutually exclusive. One of the biggest ways I have let myself down is my constant state of comparing myself to others and feeling as if other people’s success is equal to my failure. My goal is to someday reach a place where I can feel completely happy for a friend who has accomplished something.
Social standards of achievement and intelligence is not conducive to individual growth. Setting the shelves of success built on cultural norms doesn’t mean that anyone who doesn’t reach them aren’t above average or worth a second glance. You are only what you make yourself to be. That doesn’t necessarily mean you know how you’re building yourself up. And sometimes you’ll unintentionally build yourself down. All that matters is that you know you have worth. Your idea of success doesn’t have to be the same as everybody else’s. I’m only now learning this and in a lot of ways I feel free.