All through high school and my first two years of college I was a model student. I was neurotically punctual, I paid attention in class and studied for tests the way I was “supposed to”. It wasn’t until I found myself in a less than ideal romantic relationship that school began to take the back burner. I spent so much time and energy fighting that I often missed class or showed up unprepared and lacking the composure necessary to learn and participate in class discussions. My grades that quarter certainly reflected that my mind was elsewhere. For the first time in my life I felt like a complete failure not because I was letting a man abuse me but because I wasn’t the star student that my identity was formed around. I would like to say I left the relationship and immediately improved my performance however I eventually just learned to balance school with the draining relationship. However my “bad quarter” stuck with me, it loomed over me like a dark rain cloud reminding me that I wasn’t who I thought I was and consistently reinforced that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough or focused enough. It all came back to value and for me I’ve come to associate good grades with intelligence (even though statistically and logistically I know the two aren’t always correlated). When I saw myself “failing” in school I could hardly look in the mirror, my value was gone!
I don’t place all of my value in education (though admittedly a great deal). My identity is formed around many values and characteristics some of which are healthy while others have the potential to be a little toxic. I identity as being kind, blonde, skinny, a good friend, in a relationship, I identify as being a leader and a good runner and as someone who makes decisions with her head over her heart. Is it so bad to place my identity on being thin? I’ve been so my entire life and thus exercising has become a central part of who I am…on the flip side this pillar of my identity has the potential to nurture unhealthy habits and expectations should I put on a few pounds for whatever reason (not saying this is happening, it’s just an example of the good and bad of all these aspects).
Identity is such a fascinating topic for me because so often we don’t think about where others are placing their own value. When I stop and think about those closest to me- their insecurities and their strengths, I can formulate an educated guess about where they place their own value but at the end of the day I really can’t know for sure. What I do know is that it’s important to realize where you are placing your own worth. If you find yourself constantly beating yourself up over an imperfect homework assignment or too self conscious to leave the house with frizzy hair or unable to attend a party without your boyfriend present these seemingly insignificant occurrences provide insight towards our own perceptions of worth. As a loyal promoter of self awareness and a journey towards self actualization I am a firm believer that the more we are able to know ourselves the better equipped we are to handle any problems the world throws at us.
I know I set high standards for myself when it comes to learning&education and while I can’t imagine lowering those standards I can remind myself to breathe and forgive. Now that I have graduated it is possible to allow my bad quarter as an undergrad haunt me a bit (“what will grad schools think?”) but I think the better choice is to forgive myself. Think about your value and recognize it goes beyond any single arena, then forgive yourself for whatever unalterable expectation you’re allowing to make you feel inferior. I promise it’s a big relief.
I want to leave you with a quote I discovered years ago and I’m fairly certain will stick with me for forever, “Fame is vapor, popularity an accident and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character” -Horace Greeley
Do you know where you place your value? Do you have a healthy relationship with accepting your failures and shortcomings?