When I was six years old, I was pulled out of my math class and was told that I was ‘special.’
They talked about my subpar test scores, and for the first time in my life I had the mentality that I was supposed to be perfect drilled in my head. My teacher spoke to me in words that were too large for my young self to fully understand, but I walked out of her small office with an entirely new outlook on life.
They told me I was smart, they told me that I was destined for greatness. All because I bubbled in correct answers on a standardized test. I understand that she said those things to motivate me, to push me onto the correct path. But all she really did was put an obscene amount of stress on a child’s shoulders. My teachers, family, and classmates looked at me like I was ‘advanced,’ and I believed it. I took every word that she said to heart and tried to be the prodigy that she painted me out to be.
But what she forgot to forewarn me of is that every human inevitably has to fail.
Everybody screws up, that is just part of life. But when you are told from a very young age that you are special and above average, failure simply does not seem like an option for you. Any grade that is not a hundred makes you feel like you should be doing more. Any question that you might have should be left unsaid because it is expected of you to understand everything at a faster rate than everyone else. This mentality of expecting for yourself to be better than you actually are makes you spiral quickly into failure.
And when you fail, it feels like you are doing more than just failing yourself. You feel like you have let down your parents, your teachers, and your peers. It’s a harsh fall from superiority to realizing that nothing about you makes you any more special than anybody else. And while it does help you gain perspective about life that every person has something that makes them special in some way, it can still hurt you greatly.
The transition from knowing that you are something special to realizing that you are nothing has caused for an increased spike in teenage depression in the past few years. This flawed system of dividing kids at a young age due to their academic performance has created an environment that builds stress for children on both sides of the spectrum.
Why was there never a lesson where the teacher explained that every person has the capability to be extraordinary, and that academics is not the most important aspect of one’s personality? When will we not feel confined to the labels we were given at a young age?
Being a child prodigy was not easy, especially now that I am an average student at best. But being on the opposite side of the spectrum was not easy for those students either. I get aggravated with myself for not living up to everyone else’s expectations, but I know on the other side that the ones who were labelled as below-average are proud of themselves for not confining themselves to the expectations they had years ago.
I believe that this means that, overall, we should not define ourselves to others expectations. Part of growing up is realizing that you’re going to mess up, but also that sometimes you will succeed. How you performed on a standardized test in first grade does not define the person that you are now, and it shouldn’t.
The only thing that should define who you are is yourself.