School and Perpetual Self-doubt and Conflicting Inner Forces, Oh My!

If you are standing up right now, you may want to sit down. If you are wearing an uncomfortable outfit, you may want to change into some sweats. If you have a lot on your mind, you may want to meditate or light some eucalyptus candles while you’re at it.

Why? Because I am about to deliver some truly shocking news.

I…

Actually…

Like…

School. A lot, in fact.

I can hear the collective gasp already. But, please, allow me to explain.

All of my English teachers have been the ones to mold my passion as a writer. The amazing friends I have met over the years have positively impacted me and have made life valuable. School has given me so many fantastic opportunities to learn about myself, learn about the world, and learn about the lives of others. And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

I place a lot of emphasis on my education. As positive as that may seem, it leads to the sole thing I don’t like about school: the competition, and the impact that it has had on my confidence in my own abilities.

I’m going to begin by retracing my path as a student, a pretty traditional one.

From kindergarten to seventh grade, I was on top. Every kid tried to cheat off of my tests, my report cards were full of 4s and As, and my standardized test scores were always advanced, and on occasion, the top 5 to 10 percentile in the nation.

During those times, school was challenging enough for me to work my hardest, but simple enough where academic-related stress was a rare occurrence for me.

I remember a moment in the seventh grade where I had a 4.0 GPA. After the ceremony that honored me and other students with similar achievements, my mom cried and said that this was the proudest moment of her life.

I did not understand her reaction. For me, this was not a big deal. I just did assignments, and got good grades. It was habitual.

Little did I know that this would be one of the final instances where I felt such a way, because in 8th grade, everything changed.

It was Algebra 1, my first “real” math class. I’ll spare you the long story: I tanked in that class. Part of it was my inconsistent teacher and the constant barrage of substitutes that knew as little as their students did, part of it was my failure to get help when I needed it, but most of it was the fact that it was a relatively difficult class and subject for me.

I ended up getting my first C ever, which eventually became my first B ever. This grade kept me from getting the prestigious award for maintaining a 4.0 all throughout middle school.

Awards night was absolutely horrendous for me. The visual of seeing those who had once prospered alongside me, including my best friend, walking up to the stage and accepting the award I should have gotten haunts me to this day. Even as I’m writing this, I’m tearing up.

The real kicker was the fact that the parents of each of the awardees walked up to accept their award with their smart children that deserved to be celebrated. My parents and I were confined to our folding chairs.

That night, I had never felt more ashamed in my life. My grandparents offered to take me out for ice cream, I outright told them that I didn’t deserve it. Instead of enjoying a nice, refreshing ice cream cone (cookie dough with rainbow sprinkles, obviously), I cried myself to sleep. Not only did I feel like I had failed myself, I felt like I had failed my family.

Looking back, I now know that my middle school years were amazing. All As except one B in my academic classes? That’s fantastic!

Honestly, it took me a while to get to that point, but I’m glad that I have finally found the ability to view sixth grade through eighth grade in a positive light.

However, the same can definitely not be said about my high school years.

I’m not going to pretend like I take easy classes. I don’t. My agenda over the last three years has been full of honors classes, high-level courses, and a few APs here and there.

For the most part, I have worked my tail off in these classes (except for 10th grade AP Euro. We don’t talk about 10th grade AP Euro). I study for every test, I ask my teachers questions whenever I need it, and I do my best to completely immerse myself in every little thing that I learn.

With habits like this, it’s safe to assume that I have a set of UC-friendly grades to match.

Well, my friend, that assumption is completely incorrect.

It’s not like my grades are generally thought of as bad, however. I’ve received mostly As and Bs, with a few Cs in my worst subjects, math and PE.

However, I fail to see that I have relatively good grades because for the first eight or so years of my academic career, I was at the tippy-top. Now, I’m not, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have had a very difficult time accepting this truth.

Why have I had such a hard time? I compare myself to others.

This is the part where I introduce you to my two intrinsic forces that are in charge of this tendency. Because I am eccentric (er, a freak), I decided to aptly dub these forces Yayla and Faila.

Let’s meet Yayla first. Physically, she is a gleaming high school movie stereotype. She’s the head cheerleader, the girl that’s always smiling, and the one with an insufferably high voice.

In case her name was not indicative enough, she is my biggest supporter. However, the way she finds support for me is, well, questionable.

To put it in perspective, I’m going to give an example of a situation where Yayla prevailed. A few months ago, I was chatting with a very VERY smart person that I knew and admired for his intelligence. He was talking about how upset he was for getting a C on an English assignment, whereas I had just found out that I got an 8 out of 9 on my first AP English essay, the top score in the class.

Yayla told me, “Go, Cayla! You’re better than the smart guy! You can do anything! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” (yes, with that many “o”s.)

As terrible as it sounds, I was using someone else’s defeat to augment the gravity of my victory. That’s Yayla’s specialty: putting myself above others, even when it’s not necessary, and basing my success on being better than my peers.

Last year, when I thought I didn’t get into AP Lang (I wrote not one but TWO entries on this. You can check them out if you love me), I surveyed the acceptance list and picked out the people who Yayla thought did not deserve their positions. Although it did not deter my ferocious anger and floods of tears, it automatically made me think that the Lang teachers had just taken the biggest L in their lives.

(Am I using that term correctly? I sincerely hope so.)

So in short, Yayla is that one girl who seems nice, but can literally destroy everyone else who she finds inferior to herself. As the great orator Katy Perry once tweeted, “Watch out for the Regina George in sheep’s clothing.” (She was talking about Yayla, definitely not Taylor Swift. I’ve tried to sell this story to TMZ a thousand times over, but I’m banned from their headquarters for life.)

Let’s go on the opposite end and meet by far the most ubiquitous of my intrinsities (yes, I know that is not a word, but it should be): Faila.

Faila is the Anti-Yayla: she absolutely despises me. To her, everything I do is wrong. If I get a one hundred on a test, she will never fail to remind me that I should have gotten the extra credit point. If I finish a novel, she will angrily point out plot holes and tell me that I don’t deserve to feel proud. If I’m on the honor roll or qualify for honors’ societies and CSF, she reiterates that I barely qualify. If I ace a song, one of my notes didn’t have enough vibrato, according to her. If I break the curve for an APUSH quiz, she will shout from rooftops that I am not the only one who did so, and that I have no right to feel special.

With her, there are no positive comparisons: only negative. Her biggest superpower, however, is disguising herself as some sort of motivational superhero.

Sometimes she fools me, which isn’t much of a feat considering that I was one of those sixth graders who believed in the school’s “pool” on the “third floor,” but that’s besides the point.

In these cases, I will have the mentality that if I want to impress Faila, I’ll obviously work harder, and I’ll get good grades. This does lead to me going the extra mile and putting in a little more effort than usual, which is a positive. But Faila will never be impressed, which eventually leads to an influx of stress, tears, self-doubt, and slight masochistic tendencies from time to time.

One of the cases where Faila made the most unwelcome appearance was my math analysis final last semester. In that class, I was on a dangerous, barely stable rope bridge connected to C Island over the rushing waters of D Rapids. My final, I thought, was the rusty nail that could either miraculously stay in place, or cause the bridge to fall into the depths below, where there was no escape.

That math final was hard. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of “educated guesses.”

To make matters worse, when I was struggling to answer the questions I had skipped and gone back to countless times, Faila decided to join the party.

You bitch,” she told me in her scathing tone, an angry New York accent, obviously. “You have zero future. No college is ever going to want a girl who has a D in regular math analysis. Not even honors. No employer is going to want you, either. You’d better figure out a talent so you can become a street performer, because that’s all you’ve got. Since you’re so bad at math, you’re obviously bad at everything else. Delete your novel files. Get out of CSF now. Stop believing in yourself at once. You’re a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail,

YOU’RE A FAIL!”

I wish I could say that I managed to counter Faila’s insults and use them to motivate me to answer those questions, slay my final, and prove her wrong. But unfortunately, I did exactly what she wanted me to do: I completely succumbed.

Somehow, I was able to finish my test with ten minutes to spare, but as I brought my test up to the teacher, I could feel the nails on the bridge breaking. D Rapids had never felt so close.

At my desk, I could not contain any of my emotions. I began to bury my head in my desk and cry.

No, “cry” is an understatement, I freaking sobbed.

Before I go on and lament some more, I just want to address how annoying I must have been. The other students were trying to take their final and get a good grade, whereas I was sobbing extremely loudly because I had just been defeated by my intrinsic demon.

So I’m going to issue an apology: if you were in Mr. Wilson’s class on the day of my final and you were affected by my wails, I apologize profusely and each of you all will have a guaranteed position in my will.

But anyways, I believed every little thing Faila had said. My usual optimism had completely flown into the wastebasket. I was the worst version of myself in that moment.

Although it’s irrelevant to this entry, this story does have a happy ending. I ended up doing okay on the final, raising my percentage, and keeping a C. When the grade was entered, I got whiplash from an overload of celebratory dabbing.

But we’re talking about Yayla and Faila now. Honestly, I don’t wish this upon too many people (or forces), but I want both of them dead, or fired, if I want to be less extreme.

I want them to take a nice, luxurious, long, permanent vacation to Punta Cana, or wherever intrinsic forces go on luxurious, long, permanent vacations.

Instead, I want to replace them with a whole new force, someone who knows how to bring me up without bringing others down, gives me constructive criticism without tearing me down, and only wants the best for me.

When she is born, her name will be You’re Pretty Awesome and You Don’t Need Grades or The Faults of Others to Confirm That-la. Seems suitable, right?

But before her birth can occur, there will be more than a few obstacles along the way.

By that, I mean that I’ll have to become more confident in my intelligence, my abilities, and my accomplishments.

Which brings me back to school. As much as I hate to blame the system as a whole, I feel that our nation’s most prevalent academic organization is the main reason for my lack of confidence.

I don’t want to get all opinion-editorialish, so I’m going to keep it brief.

I hate that my grades make it difficult for me to believe people when they tell me I’m smart. I hate that I can only feel fulfilled when I have the highest number of test questions correct. I hate that my faith in myself and my hopes for my future can be extirpated in an instant due to a decimal. I hate that the few times I’ve cried have been because of tests and essays. I hate that school and its narrow definition of “smart” has made me feel worthless.

Wow. That was a lot to get off of my chest, in case the page count was not indicative enough of that. But may I remind you that when all is said and done, I love school.

I just don’t like the way it decreases my confidence while simultaneously making me act pompous and envious in order to feel worthy.

But I am confident that I will overcome this, and abort the efforts of Faila and Yayla in the process. How will I do this? Every day, I will say something to myself that I am proud of. I will fixate on the positive, not the negative. If I can do that for everyone and everything else, I can do it for myself as well.

You know what? I’ll start right now. I have managed to build up an awesome blog with an awesome following of awesome friends and even a few awesome strangers. I have a small but awesome platform to post my awesome and less-than-awesome experiences and feelings. I am sure I can do this because of my awesome supporters’ awesome acceptance and awesome love. Thank you guys. So much.

PS: If I had a GPA point for every time I said “awesome” in those above sentences…

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