In a mere few days, I’m going to graduate from college.
Yes, college – It’s an exciting fete, I know.
After four years of working toward my degree, I’ll be graduating with Summa Cum Laude, the highest honors offered at my university. I’ll be littered with cords, certificates, all that fancy stuff that says you’re pretty smart. Exciting! …Right?
I suppose so – sigh.
Appreciating my achievements is…complicated. Because while graduating is going to be amazing and leave me with so many new opportunities, it’s also going to take away my main source of self-worth: School.
Ever since elementary school, I was a high achiever. I had the coolest writing utensils, drew the best pictures, and could multiply 2 x 3 like no other (I also brought in the best snacks that I’d trade with other students…It was my own business. But no one’s counting that). I also ruled recess as the magical cat queen that owned a tree named Raven. You don’t need context.
In middle school I floundered a bit. I was trying to find myself in that lovely realm of puberty with my strawberry blonde hair and my polo shirts that were a little too tight (and definitely not dark enough for my style, now). But, those weird middle school years brought me my love for writing. I remember days we’d free-write in my English classes and my hands would shake when I’d read my stories out loud, but my work was always well-received. My teachers encouraged me to continue writing and the moment the creative writing unit came along, I shined. Writing became my new obsession – stories would dance in my mind and my characters would speak to me. Conveniently, this new obsession granted me the ability to create well-formatted papers and my writing, in all forms, flourished.
High school was fun. You know, a lot of people talk gossip, bullshit relationships, drugs, alcohol, stupid stuff that general 15-18 year olds enjoy. People were clicky. You were either cool or you weren’t. Do you want to know what group I was in?
…If you thought for a second I was with the cool kids, you are sorely mistaken. But hey, it was because I was that weird, dark, smart girl who aced all her papers, raised her hand way too much in class, and had her shit (annoyingly) together. High school was my refinement. I was in AP classes, was a writing tutor, ran the creative writing club at one point alongside one of my best friends, was a teacher’s aid, and then some. I was well known, and well liked (and disliked). Especially in the English department. At the end of my high school career, I received an “Outstanding Senior in English” award aside 7 other seniors. Writing was obviously my jam and I still achieved highly in all my other classes.
And then there’s college. My fun and torturous friend. When I started college, I never knew that studying would be a necessity. When they told me I had to study, I told them I wanted my money back, and to rewind time to my high school years. Now that obviously didn’t fare well, and here I am four years later, addicted to studying, a study-addict. Thanks college, you’re paying for my medical bills when I’m in treatment.
I imagine after I graduate I’ll slowly get withdrawals…I’ll get tremors without material to go over, communication theories (since I am a communication major) will run through my brain and I’ll call out to them, thirsty for that high of learning, for those hours of writing till my hand felt like it was going to fall off. My intense study habits was my gateway drug to the buckets of dopamine I’d receive when I’d ace a test. Now that was a high.
I learned a lot in school, but in the end, I was an addict for A’s.
Look, someone can come up to you and tell you “Hey, I think you’re doing an awesome job, keep it up,” Which is great and all, but with an anxious brain, you just assume they’re saying those things to make you feel better about your trash work, or you find yourself running through all the scenarios of how their tone of voice actually means something entirely different, blah blah blah.
But an A? An A is honest and authentic. I mean just look at the shape of the letter, it’s like an arrow, pointing up to the heavens, splitting the clouds just enough to shower you with that light of worth. Okay, even that analogy was cringy for me. Moving on.
I think another piece of my “A” addiction is that the ones giving me the A’s were high-achieving scholars. Many of my professors in college had PhDs, and I couldn’t help but be enamoured by their intellectual status. Like, shit, I think college is hard, and look at you, you embodiment of higher learning and enlightenment.
Stop being beautiful. Stop it.
Being taught by very established people only pushed me to work harder. I needed to prove myself – I felt like I was some desperate progeny to their vast intellect.
And was I desperate. I thought I worked hard in high school, but then college came along. The difficulty proved as a test in itself to me. I needed to be on top. I needed to be active in class, to be seen and appreciated by my peers and especially my professors.
I couldn’t, no, wouldn’t, be invisible.
If college was my stepping stone to success in my adult life, how the fuck was I supposed to good enough out there if I couldn’t get an A on a test, a paper, a speech, a project? How could I ever hope to be much of anything if I couldn’t be at the top of my class? Something more than painfully average, more than mediocre?
It’s a twisted logic, I know. But that’s how I’ve always felt. I felt like every test, assignment and project was a new challenge to my skills. In nerd terms, it almost felt like doing constant boss fights in a video game. I’d be sitting at level 5, while this boss is a level or two above me. I was a fighter that would always go in head first, shield up, sword out. And if you’ve ever played a game before, you know how stressful boss fights are. The fun part about this, is that I made everything a boss fight. Not just tests, but everything. I’d put all my power, all my energy, and skills into all I did. I’d overkill even the smallest of foes and would be out of stamina and low on health in what felt like seconds.
But with me being me, I kept fighting. I kept reviving myself, even when I was beaten bloody and would fight again. Good thing I have healing skills (Paladins for the win)!
I’m about to get to the biggest boss out there – that boss is called real life. It’s the real world. And the real world doesn’t give you pretty A’s to split the heavens. The real world doesn’t hand you award certificates (not often at least), or try to pick you up off the ground when you fail.
It kicks your ass.
And you have to pick yourself up and remind yourself that you make your own worth.
It’s time for me to get clean. Soon, I will no longer be a study addict. I will no longer be an “A” addict. Because I simply can’t be. Graduating will not only give me the ability to pave my own way, to make my own worth, but it’ll allow me to invest more time into my passions, into the people I love, and most importantly, into my own self-made future. My own self-made prophecy.
Real life is the real test. And being able to find comfort and happiness in what I decide to do is what really should define my worth. So what if there’s no more tests to ace?
Life is a constant test and if I keep doing what I’m doing, if I keep true to myself, fighting for what I love, my writing, my art, my family and my friends, then I think that makes me pretty worthy. In the end, I will always aspire to be a truly outstanding individual.
Or hey, there’s always grad school…
Graduating yourself? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!
With endless encouragement,