Growing up, I was always reminded of how "special" I was. I spent a healthy amount of time on school work and I put effort in my extra-curricular activities. Not every child was as focused as I was and so I was rewarded for my attention span and ability to complete tasks to standard. I was never really special, just over aware of my place in society and the expectations on me from a young age.
Life was not hard to understand for me. If you put in the work, the rewards come naturally- the praise, the validation. When I was in grade four my grandmother rewarded me with ten cents when I got my times tables right. When I was in grade 6 my uncle would pay me $20 every time I got an A on a major exam. When I went to high school, my effort and passion translated into plaques, scholarships and amazing letters of recommendation.
And then I went to college. All of a sudden in the place where passion and good attitude should have mattered most, I was thrown out of my element into a C's get degree's climate where life was separated from academics and where my personality and thirst for knowledge was noted and then promptly disregarded in the classroom.
I had never felt this way before. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. All of a sudden it was like nothing I did was impressive and no experience I had was good enough.
For a good while, I tried to extend myself to keep up with all the new expectations of university. Come to class early, keep extensive tabs on all the fine details of each assignment. This quickly proved impossible, because my only occupation wasn't "student" anymore. I was an adult. An adult who had to work and make connections- "schmooze". I had to cook for myself and clean for myself- I was running myself thin, extended on every side. All while other students simply went to the professors, clear of conscience, and asked for extensions or extra help.
I was so used to keeping a level of dignity for the standard of life. If a bar was set and I couldn't reach it, it was MY FAULT. I shouldn't and couldn't ask for leeway. Panic set into my daily routine. All of a sudden I was anxious about everything, not just school. Every bit of rejection stabbed me like a knife. What am I lacking? How could I have done more?
Then I learnt: Life is not fair. There is no equal input-output, there is no perfect formula to anything in life. I was cheated out of that reality because I was constantly shown the correlation between work, responsibility and maturity and how much I was rewarded. I was addicted to that, and as soon as that structure was taken away from me I was left only to believe in my own dysfunction. I wish someone could have told me before I went to university that my work ethic was not going to be the most important thing for success.
Us "gifted kids" need to stop punishing ourselves for the cruelty of life. We don't need to feel like it is all over or that we have lost momentum. We don't need to be the "best" all the time, because there is no best. There is no school ranking or definitive path. We are all valid in our journey, and the only thing that matters is that we feel comfortable doing whatever it takes to progress on our own goals.
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