Before every quiz, test or exam, I put in my best effort, regardless of how big or little the assessment is. Not just the effort recommended by my teachers but an effort that satisfies my personal standards. And time after time, someone gets a better grade than me. When I was younger, that used to bother me tremendously, not necessarily because I was competitive but because it made me feel degraded. I consistently undervalued the effort I was putting in. When graded quizzes and tests were returned, I used to become severely irritated when someone around me shouted out their grade and it surpassed mine. It bothered me because more often than not, they claimed to have crammed the night before and I had been studying for the past week. I also observe classmates receiving similar grades to mine, even when their assignments are completed moments before were due. Every day, I’m confronted with these moments.
Hearing this, you probably think of me as selfish or vain, and sure, in some moments I was, but it wasn’t directed at them. No, I was mad at myself. I was vain and selfish towards myself. I selfishly kept the feeling of pride from myself, I vainly judged my own self-worth based on the comparison of my grade to a peer’s. It was toxic and demeaning, yes, but it was also destructive. I became obsessed with representing my self-worth and value on my grades rather than my effort.
Only within the past couple of years have I been able to suppress that feeling of guilt and negativity towards myself. Before I even step into an assessment, I evaluate my effort. Did I meet my own high standard? Am I proud of the work I put in?
The grade I receive should help me improve in the future rather than provide me with an outlet for self-demeaning tendencies.
Now, this might sound silly, but I learned all these things from my little brother.
When he was only a toddler, my mother used to tell him how proud she was of his effort, rather than how good of a job he did. His small block tower could crumble, but Mom never ceased to tell him how proud she was of his effort. It helped me realize that I could be proud of myself, even if I don’t get the grade I was expecting or hoping for.
I have to keep reminding myself that the practice isn’t defined by the performance. I have to keep reminding myself that the grade doesn’t define my value. The effort does. At the end of our latest Variety Show, Mr. Van Dyke told me something that I’ve thought of repeatedly over the past few months, and I think you could all benefit from hearing his ideology. He asked me:
“The performance was good. But what will you remember from this past year?” Confronted with this deeply ethical question, I didn’t know what to say! But before I could answer he said: “You’ll remember the practice, because that was the best part. That’s where all the hard work went, and that’s where the memories were made. I know that’s what I’m going to remember.”
In the moment, I had a hard time taking that in, because I thought we did a pretty good job, and wanted to celebrate the performance we just gave. But I later realized, that Mr. Van Dyke wasn’t bringing down the performance at all but rather he was elevating our hard work and effort. Because he was right, the practice was more fun, and I don’t even remember the song I sang at that time. And since then, I try not to base my self-worth on the result of a quiz, test, exam or performance. I try not to get down on myself for receiving a grade that was lower than my expectation or simply lower than my peers’. I try not to dictate my self-worth based on the comparison of a classmate’s work to my own, because I realized that I wasn’t being fair to them, nor to myself.
Like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once said, “Success isn't always about greatness. It's about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” Success, to me, used to be about getting perfect marks or not making mistakes when singing in public. I now know that it’s the effort I put into everything I do that matters most. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about effort. It’s about recognizing everything I do to prepare for the tests in my life. And it’s about appreciating the people who are always there for me along the way… like my family and the teachers who care about me most.
matters most. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about effort. It’s about recognizing everything I do to prepare for the tests in my life. And it’s about appreciating the people who are always there for me along the way…like my family and the teachers who care about me most.