Just last night, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Union Square for a meeting. I was saying how I taught myself how to do something by watching a Youtube video. Then I said… “They did not teach me this in school.”
My voice had a hint of defiance and also a bit of marvel.
I was ridiculously lucky to go to both elementary and middle schools with the best teachers and the smartest kids. I’ve always gone to public schools, but the education I received was insanely amazing. The things we learned in math and science were high-level and engaging. The books we read and discussed opened up new worlds. We were pushed, not pulled.
But there was always “the system.” Getting that “A” was more important than what you actually learned. If that meant memorizing useless pneumonics or cramming six minutes before walking through the door.. or learning shortcuts on your TI-89… then sometimes you might feel like that was what you had to do.
If you were considered “smart” or “gifted,” grades on subjective essays tended to be higher. I saw some of my best friends who were not labeled for a certain track be failed by the system, especially in high school. My friends who were the most eager and most caring and most creative would fail because they didn’t fit into that box. A, B, C, D, and E (no error) didn’t work for them. But did that change her intelligence? Her drive? Her passion?
Eventually, I came to understand that education was more about the grade and much less so about the learning. If I was expected to read seven books, continue training for the sport that I loved, and complete my physical education requirements (so I could squeeze one more AP class into my schedule) during the summer… then sometimes I had to read Sparknotes to pass the summer reading test.
When I went to college, I really struggled. I can’t even put it into words how difficult my freshman year was. Of course, it was also such a defining moment in my life for a handful of reasons that I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would do it again. Exactly the same way, as painful as it was at the time.
I was struggling with intense and frequent panic attacks which were very much affecting my schoolwork. As hard as I was finding studying, I was simply struggling with leaving my dorm room every morning.
And then I bombed my first ever college exam.
I wouldn’t even consider it failing… It was worse. I couldn’t finish the test because I was in such a terrible panic. I received a 12%. Twelve.
What I learned over the next few months, and then years, was that that 1-2 on the top of my blue book meant absolutely nothing in terms of my self worth… unless I let it.
It made me realize that the grade was less important than what you do. Can you get “Straight A’s” and be successful? Absolutely. But do you need “Straight A’s” to be successful? Absolutely not.
Failing that exam and then squeaking by with a just-barely-passing grade in the class was the reason why I started blogging in the first place. Blogging was my creative outlet. If I wanted to talk about shoes, I could talk about shoes. If I wanted to learn about real-life marketing (think: case studies in real life), then I could teach myself. I read books (for fun) on branding. I watched hours of Youtube to teach myself programs like Photoshop. I went to conferences to speak on panels and listen to experts. I met amazing people who helped me pry open the doors to my dreams.
I thought that the 12% was the end of the world, but what I’ve realized is that it was simply just the beginning.
I saw this on HuffPo this morning and I was really moved by it. I find that I was trapped in the “Straight A” mindset for far too long. I’m so thankful to have broken free in 2008 and the things I accomplished were far more meaningful, educational, and impactful as a result… and even fun.
I know a lot of you are gearing up for finals. Late nights. Lots of coffee. And, of course, lots of stress. Do your best. Study in the way that works for you. Work with friends and meet with professors.
But don’t beat down your own spirit in the process.