My whole life, I was the “smart sibling.” I just so happened to take my education more seriously than my older brothers. I sat quietly at my desk, paying attention while they ran in and out of the principal’s office. While my parents never called me the “smart sibling,” they always praised me for my academic aptitude, and soon enough, my name became synonymous with intelligence.
Growing up, I treated my intelligence like a personality trait.
I am smart. I will always be smart. Period. I ended up thinking that I didn’t need to put that much effort into my studies to succeed.
I wish I could say that I grew out of this mentality quickly. I didn’t.
I graduated high school with an okay GPA but an erratic academic track record. Young me dreamed of being at the top of the class and receiving a full-ride scholarship. I ended up with neither.
Disappointing, but I still got into a university. I just promised myself that I would do better at college.
I repeated many of my old habits my first semester. I chalked it up to me adjusting to my new surroundings. Unfortunately, my second semester shot all my hopes for improvement into the ground. I tried changing, but I struggled with depression and decided to focus on my mental health. Even though I know that I made the right decision, my self-esteem took a heavy blow. I only took one of my finals and didn’t come back for fall.
Even at my lowest, I wanted to go back to university.
So, after a year, I enrolled at Long Beach City College so that I could transfer. When I got ready to take my placement tests, I thought I could get into the advanced classes with only a little bit of studying.I took my tests with that familiar overconfidence. Shockingly, I forgot a lot of stuff after not being in school for a year, so I didn’t do great on most of them. Tragic.
I pouted to my mom: “Why were those tests so hard?” She, who witnessed me stroke my intellectual ego for my entire life, let out an exasperated sigh saying, “maybe you’re not as smart as you thought you were.” At the time, I thought she called me dumb.
I started at LBCC begrudgingly taking entry-level courses. Taking those entry-level courses ended up changing my life. In two of my classes, my professors taught us about fixed and growth mindsets. They said that a growth mindset helps students succeed in college.
I realized that I’d spent my entire life with a fixed mindset. I thought that I couldn’t do any better. I looked back at my whole academic career, thinking: “that wasn’t smart of me.” I finally understood what my mom meant: I needed to start growing.
So, I grew into a model student.
Cracking open a textbook right before finals wasn’t going to cut it this time. I asked questions, went to my professors’ office hours, got extra help from tutors, kept calendars to keep track of deadlines and kept up with readings. Of course, I should’ve been doing all of this from the beginning, but hey, better late than never.
After three years of applying myself, I graduated from LBCC with honors, two Associate degrees, an armful of recommendation letters and a full-ride to UCLA. I hope you’re proud, young me.
I’m happy to say that I’m still working hard at UCLA; however, I still need to keep my old ways from creeping up on me. Whenever I don’t get a perfect grade, I swallow my pride and figure out what I did wrong. I don’t want to be stagnant anymore; I want to grow.
Time to put my smarts to work.