When I was in primary school I was smart. My reading score was above everyone else’s, I got literacy awards and ‘special’ books to read. I got merit awards and reports sent home with glowing reviews of my academic ability and attitude towards school work.
This continued for most of high school. I ranked well in NAPLAN, was top of my classes and the sort of student who could get away with barely studying and still get top marks in my exam. I was your textbook overachiever.
Then Year 12 hit me and I finally got a taste of what it was like to not be the best. I had moved to a selective senior school for my final years and was no longer the big fish in the small pond.
My marks weren’t bad, but I wasn’t the overachiever anymore. There were students studying harder, longer and better than me. Before, I was ahead in the race. Now I was slowly slipping but I still had the same pressures to do well.
Even though I was falling behind, in everyone’s eyes I should have still been performing how I was before. Teachers, family and friends still expected me to top the class.
Eventually, the pressure just got too much. I crashed, hard, completely burnt out. I was barely able to study and would spend most of my time laying on my bed with a ball of anxiety sitting in my stomach and the fear that I was going to fail.
For some people this happens in high school, for others it happens in uni. It happens to the kids who have spent their whole childhood being told they are above the rest, only to find out that the reality is, they’re the same as everyone else. Good at some things, but not always as good as others.
It’s confronting going from star stickers and green ticks to criticisms scribbled in red pen. From top of the class to middle of the stream; from being an overachiever to barely having enough energy to function, let alone stay ahead.
But don’t get caught up in whether you’re keeping up with the rat race. Yeah, it’s nice to feel like you’re ahead of the game but the reality is, everybody has different talents and academic success is only a tiny measure of a person’s worth.
Just because you’re not getting straight A’s anymore, or you fail your first unit at uni, doesn’t mean you’re worth any less than the primary school version of you who knew all the answers in class and got called up on stage in assembly to accept another award.
When you’ve spent most of your life being told that you’re great at something, it’s tough to deal with the fact that there are people who can (and will) overtake you. All you can do is focus on what you are good at and put all your energy into that. Try your damn hardest and learn to measure your success on your effort, rather than your ranking.