Self worth through personal character rather than academic achievement


For me, it seems as though my entire academic life has been on the basis of grades, more specifically how high they were. Earn this grade to make my parents proud, to get me into that higher math class, to get me into a good college, to set me up for success and a better life all-around. These were the messages I was told, thrust down my throat as a malleable young student, eager to learn about new things and understand the adult conversations at the dinner table. And the more I heard these messages, the more I believed them, equating academic success and achievement to my own self-worth and what this meant for my future. 

Unfortunately, we live in a society that prioritizes achievements, whatever they may be, over character. When being told to dream big, it was always with some end goal for a career in mind, but me dreaming big could simply mean being a philanthropic, empathetic, kind-hearted person ready to engage with others to put good out into the world. But I never believed that could be possible. I have always been a big dreamer, idealizing my future with high expectations for what is to come, whether that be working as a civil rights attorney at a large firm or a big time Hollywood producer. But I always thought those dreams were to be earned with hard work, which ultimately meant good grades starting out young, at least in my interpretation. 

Therefore, in the quest to achieve my dreams and prove my intelligence to those around me, I put immense pressure on myself to earn high grades since I thought that was equated to being a better, smarter, more successful person both now and later in my life. This caused me to make decisions on the basis of what would allow me to do the best. I turned down opportunities to spend time with friends or to relax for the simple reason that I needed to study more for an upcoming test or spend just a little more time on that assignment or project to perfect it. The energy I put into schoolwork gave me the results I wanted, but caused me to wonder at what cost? 

In making these sacrifices, I put my mental health on tremendous strain. I had been working and pushing myself to the peak of my academic performance for four years without a significant period of rest to just be. Even during the summer, the designated time to recharge, be free, be a teenager, I spent my time working on summer classes at colleges to make myself seem more competitive once college application season rolled around. This left my mental state completely drained, lacking energy to finish my tasks because I had been pushed to the brink for so long. 

And when college application time finally did come around, I was left completely exhausted, still having to complete all the applications to show myself that my time and effort was well spent.. To make myself feel as though I was the good, talented, and smart person I thought and was told I was. My intense academic gratification related to my self-worth did not go away, but simply intensified because seeing everyone around me achieve what they wanted and deserved fueled me to work even harder because it would demonstrate just how smart and accomplished and talented I truly was. But I was pushing myself on an empty tank, my motivation completely demolished, nothing left to get me over this last hurdle to say it was all worth it.

There would be time I would spend laying in my bed, completely drained and unmotivated because the act of putting in effort towards another busy work assignment was comparable to running a ten mile marathon. I was left in a funk with a myriad of tasks that needed to be done, but I simply could not do it anymore, I had no energy left to put into the mindset that I had worked so hard for. But each time I felt this way, I would have conversations with those I loved, voicing my thoughts and grievances about everything going on. And it was through those conversations, as well as through my own introspection, that I finally recognized something that had taken me far too long: I am more than my grades. The shock that statement would have been to my younger self would have been immeasurable, but over time the true example of a talented, smart, and successful person I learned, is through their character, not through their achievements. 

I began to live by this mantra, cementing it into the new mindset I was formulating: I am more than my grades, I am built of my character, the small daily decisions, whether that be holding the door for someone or acting in service, make me who I am,  no matter the societal pressure I may feel telling me otherwise. 

This new mindset allowed me to view my self-worth in a much healthier way that was dependent upon what truly matters, my character, the actions and words I put out into the world rather than letters on a sheet of paper. Attitudes of love and acceptance truly alter the way in which we live and interact, meaning that we must treat ourselves the way we treat others. That is why it is important to always remember to reject the societal pressure for grades to give your life meaning, you give your life meaning because your actions, your love, and your kindness give life meaning.