It’s a story that’s familiar to many of us. The story of an exceptionally gifted child that parents openly brag about to extended family members and coworkers. A child who takes home first place prizes at end of year school ceremonies.
A child that I used to be, a long time ago.
Fast forward about fifteen years or so and that child’s feeling… painfully average.
Most of the giften children end up in college. Suddenly, it’s a lot harder to stand out surrounded by club presidents, student ambassadors and triple majors with 4.0 GPA’s. As a person who grew up in the so-called “everybody gets a trophy” generation, I wasn’t used to falling below the standard model of a perfect student.
If the college experience has taught me one thing, it’s the fact that I won’t always the 100 percent best at everything, and I’m slowly learning to be okay with that. I can’t speak for the future, but I can speak to the past.
So here it is. A letter to me—the little girl who received a B- on her fourth grade history test and cried because she thought it wasn’t good enough.
“Too close to a C. We know you can do better,” my parents said the day that I came home with the test in my folder.
It was a grade that I’d never received before, and never wanted to. I might as well have received an F, circled in bright red ink, smudged through the blur of hot tears. Though my parents meant for their words to motivate me, they had quite the opposite effect.
For the first time in my life, I felt like I disappointed my family. I was an A student with an honor roll record to hold up, and a C meant that I was average. Not nearly as special as my parents made me out to be during all of the years that led up to that moment. And yeah, I might not have actually gotten a C, but I had come far too close, and it couldn’t happen again.
That B- pushed me all throughout my elementary school years. It sat in the back of my mind as a constant reminder of the one time that I wasn’t good enough. My parents never hung that test on the bulletin board, or shared it with my grandparents like they had with others. This small mistake later manifested itself in other ways.
By high school, that B- wasn’t my biggest problem anymore. Sure, it wasn’t ideal grade, but it also wasn’t the end of the world either. Still, the pressure remained to be as close to perfect as possible, and it wasn’t coming from my parents.
It was coming from me.
This sense of perfectionism fueled me in every way. No matter where I found myself — in the library or on the soccer field, in sewing class or in chorus—I never found complete satisfaction. I could always have done something better. A goal shot that I took too soon or a stitch that was out of place. I only saw the things I did wrong, and never what I’d done right.
Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself. It’s funny, what the effect that time and distance can do. Maybe it really is true that you only see the past through rose-colored glasses.
I disregarded so many comments from family and friends who told me that I really wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. So, I’m telling myself that now. I’m finally giving myself the credit that I’ve withheld from myself for far too long.
I will never be a perfect person. Perfect people don’t exist, but there’s no harm in doing my best, as long as I can accept it.
And, acceptance has been a long and excruciatingly slow journey.
Living in a society so heavily dominated by competition, it’s hard to tolerate anything less than my absolute best. I literally have to rewire my brain, and shut off the voice that always pushes me to do better or go harder. Words that scream ‘lazy’ for skipping a day of class even when I’m not feeling well.
In a world that doesn’t give enough breaks, I can at least give myself one. Really, it’s the least that I can do. College is already demanding enough without additional pressure coming from the inside.
The expectations I had for my senior year are a world away from reality, but I accept it.
I accept that it took me an extra semester to make the Dean’s List.
I accept that I don’t have a job lined up yet for post-graduation.
I accept that my story isn’t over, and I still have time to make a lot of changes that will get me to the places that I’ve always wanted to be.
If I don’t accept where I am right now, how will I be able to accept myself later? The bar will always jump higher, no matter how far I reach.
My biggest critic has always been me, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I can motivate myself to do better without berating myself in the process.
So, here’s to fourth grade me.
She might not have gotten the grade she wanted on her history test, but she tried her very hardest, and I’m proud of her. I accept her.
That B- didn’t stop her from going to college and pursuing the passion that she always wanted, but it pushed her to keep going. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.
My Biggest Critic