When Grades = Self Worth

After weeks of waiting eagerly, feeling confident, feeling hopeful, I woke up with an all too familiar sensation – anticipation. Heart racing and skin tingling I went to my computer and logged into the student portal to see my grades from last semester. I was so sure I’d do well. I put so much time, effort and energy into my final. I mean how could I not do well. I’d always been an accurate judge of my ability. I worked so hard this semester, juggling working and studying, completing all my assignments on time, doing extra readings – the usual.

Logging on….waiting…waiting…here it is: “Final assignment – submitted – graded – results released”. Wide eyed and bushy tailed I clicked and scrolled down: 58%.

WTF!? Wait, What? Wait….WHAT? How…how?…What?…How…I’m so confused.

How could this happen? I download the report from my lecturer and read a full two pages of comments about where I went wrong, what I should have done, what they were looking for that I didn’t include…and the list goes on. I am overwhelmed. And then it hit me, reality that is. Wow…you misunderstood what the assignment was about you dumb dumb dummy. What you thought was an amazing piece of work was actually, 70% NOT what they wanted to see. How does that even happen?

It almost made me laugh at how totally confused I was. But then I went into full on shock mode, racing heart, racing thoughts. All of a sudden I was drowning in anxiety and self-directed anger, annoyance, frustration, disappointment.

Cue tears. How could an entire semester of hard work boil down to a passing grade. A pass?The semester before I was Icarus, soaring high above the clouds on a distinction, patting myself on the shoulder, saying “Yes! This number attached to my abilities is accurate. Hooray for me! I am smart”. Now with scorched wings and a bruised ego, my body slammed against the rocks of academia, the glue that held my confidence and self image together melting with every passing moment, I sit behind a computer, staring at a number that tells a different story. How could days and nights of effort come down to this one stupid number.

Cue my need for approval. What does my lecturer think? Does she think I’m stupid? Does she think I’m a joke? What will my friends think? How do I explain this to people? How do I make myself look like less of a failure? How can I convince myself that this isn’t my fault? What tale can I spin that makes this look like I didn’t make the bed I’m now laying in? #firstworldproblems

There is none, though. When you’re in a system that uses numbers and grades to define your worth there is no lie you can tell yourself. Many people I’ve spoken to have said to me, “Just remember, you did your best”. And while, for a second that provides comfort, I revert to the same heavy, dark emotions just moments later. It’s almost like I don’t want to feel comfort. I tell myself that what I produced is worth nothing, because it wasn’t what the two people marking my paper wanted to see. And immediately I am thrust back to a decade ago, sitting in a hot classroom, sneezing from the chalk dust, getting back assignment after assignment, test and test with comments and grades that said “try harder”, “apply yourself more”, “you did not follow instructions”, “you did not understand what was required”, “very creative, a good effort but not what I wanted”. And it’s like I’m looking in a mirror and the reflection tells me that nothing has changed.

Suddenly I am nothing more than a skinny girl, in an over-sized uniform wondering why no matter how hard I try, I still can’t make it. I can’t get it right. I can’t put on paper exactly what people want to see. And I feel horrible, like a waste.

That’s the problem when numbers and grades = self worth. I’m not sure how to measure my worth by other things. And the sad part is I have to move on, and move on quick because another semester starts on Friday. Another course, another module, another grade. As usual I’m just writing to get it off my chest. Expose the experience to the world and be forced to face it. No hiding, no cover-ups, no appearance of being perfect in this like-obsessed, follow-me-frenzy of a world.

So in hopes of forcing some perspective on myself let’s get some thoughts on paper:

I put in an great amount of effort into this semester – True.

I balanced work, school and home duties successfully – True.

After receiving good grades in the semester before, I gained confidence – True.

After receiving good grades in the semester before, I got comfortable – True.

I took for granted that what I believed was good work, would be evaluated as good work by others – True.

I am embarrassed by this – True.

I let my grades and the criticism I received affect my self image and worth – True.

I know that this is not a productive thought process – True.

I could have done better, my best could have been better – True.

I am proud of my effort last semester despite my grades – Somewhat.

I find it difficult to acknowledge the journey, when the end result is not positive – True.

My grade this semester is a true representation of my abilities – False.

I am fine with my grades not reflecting the work I put in – False.

I am fine with others not knowing how hard I worked – False.

My grade this semester will affect my grade and performance next semester – False.

With every downfall I learn something, and I think the most important takeaway from this semester is to never get too comfortable as nothing is guaranteed. I took for granted that I did well during my first semester, so by extension second semester would afford me the same success. Whether conscious or subconscious I think that played a role in how shocked I was at my results. There is such a thing as being too confident. Thinking critically about myself, I have a definite chip on my shoulder – my need to be recognized and my desire for others to see my real abilities, to not be underestimated, or wrongfully judged or inaccurately appraised. These insecurities cripple me – I know it and I don’t know how to get over that yet – the need to explain myself.

But as I said, another semester starts soon. I have mere days to get over this. At least  for now I’ve written it down, admitted it to those who read this in a way that I can’t take it back, or forget. Now I just have to find a way to convince myself to move on.

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