I was talking to a niece of mine some days ago and she was worried about her O'Level Examinations. Now, she is a very ambitious and meritorious student. I can say she is pretty awesome. Well, she doesn't have that view about herself, which made kind of sad.
She took a lot of STEM subjects - she had Pure Mathematics, Math A, Math B, Physics, Biology, well you name it and she had it. I am pretty sure she is a brilliant and talented student. However, she was always worried about how she was going to do. I could relate.
I understood how she felt but I am also old enough now to understand that my grades don't only define me. That whatever good or bad grades I get may help me into getting somewhere but it is not some palmistry type thing that shows how I am going to not succeed or succeed in my life.
I wish I could tell a 17 year old me that I would be okay. I wish I could hold them and say to them they were more than what people had told them they were and that they could always challenge those pre-assumptions. I want to love 17 year old me a lot. You know why? Because 17 year old me, though gave up at times, didn't go down without a fight.
The reason I am here now is because of 17 year old me always getting up and going on. Never backing down even if the odds seemed against them. I am proud of 17 year old me who was always curious and always writing stuff and maybe wasn't the brightest but decided to keep on studying and being curious. It is that drive that I kept on nurturing.
It is the passion coupled with hard work that usually takes you further than you can imagine. Also, I do believe passion, is not enough and has to usually be cultivated. We live in a culture that believes "love at first sight" is the most wonderful notion of the world.
So, I can see that thinking proliferate into other aspects into your life. It just does and examinations and choosing subjects is one of those places where that also happen a lot more than we like to admit. Now, I am not saying reject your passions or study things you have no interest in or that it completely acceptable for people to pretty much coerce you to study things you do not want.
I am saying that the prodigy, or the sudden success is so "venerated" in our culture it becomes daunting for students to actually "try." They think they are not smart as this Raju or Sahil or Namira or Pooja. Yet, nothing is always the same or similar. Everyone is different and may require different times to be good at something.
A cousin of mine did not like math and then she was tutored by her sister, who became a graduate in math by the way, and she started loving the subject.
I used to not like mathematics in school but as I got older I loved many aspects of mathematics and its relations with other subjects like philosophy and nature. Sometimes, we just need different things to anchor ourselves in and we are not meant to live identical lives.
The reason I spoke about passion is because it is used as something that is like some Promethean flame that spontaneously comes to you and you are supposed to steal from the "gods of creativity" to get yourself noticed or successful.
After many years, I realized that passion is not always like that at all. It is not always some automatic flame that erupts and enlightens you. It can be steady and gradual like getting to know a new friend.
Cal Newport in his renowned book, So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (2012), talks about how "follow your passion" is not always good advice. In the book description it is stated: "Not only is the cliché flawed-preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work-but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping."
So, to me, passion is also something you eventually have and does not magically appear out of nowhere. It did not even work like that at Hogwarts.
In her Guardian article titled, "Exam results day is a cruel trick played on students", Zoe Williams points out certain discrepancies within results and how over-pressurized students get about them. Ultimately, there are things also out of student control:
"I was in on the ground of grade inflation, taking English the first year of GCSEs, which were apparently much easier than O-levels, the first skid on the slippery slope of declining standards. (I got a C - I draw no conclusions from this bitter experience.)
This account of education has a satisfying simplicity: in 1987, marking changed, from grade-allocation quotas - 10% should get an A, 15% a B, and so on - to criteria referencing; like a driving test, each grade required a specific level of performance. Results went up every year for the 20-odd years thereafter.
Degree results followed: in the decade between 2004 and 2014, the number of students getting a first went from 11 to 19%. Since human intelligence didn't seem to have appreciated, and employers were always moaning that new entrants to the workplace couldn't use photocopiers, it was obvious what had happened. Grades had been debased. Schools, in cahoots with examiners, were somehow gaming the system.
Nobody was quite clear on the detail. Was it "teaching to the test"? Was there a slippage in marking rigor? Whatevs. If a quarter of students now got top grades, their achievements could not possibly be equal to those of the previous generation, in which only a tenth did."
She continues on showing how there seems to be at times a casual disrespect on when students do well. It seems they are treated as just another group of achievers than being appreciated for how hard they have worked:
"But what a cruel thing we have done to 18-year-olds, caught in this vice of politics's making, under unendurable pressure to be the best at everything, then called flakes and lightweights when they get three As because so has everyone else."
Williams's article was about A'Level Examinations but I think we can relate it to other examinations and exams in general. It is not bad to expect the best from yourself but I think sometimes people do set the bar so high that no matter how well you do there are always another thing that can be done.
This would not have been a horrible thing because I know each success or defeat does not automatically signify a failure or an end. However, we seem to teach students only half-truths and at times the youth get frustrated. We sometimes hammer into them that this one thing that is all that matters. That is not the whole truth.
I can advise one thing is that try and be happy for your achievements. Always aim to do better and don't think that doing bad in one thing is the end. You have your life to do so many things and you can always achieve more than you imagined.
You know my niece ended up with maximum As and even A*s but she was not completely happy. She wanted to get all A*s but I told her she did wonderful because she has done so well. She can always attempt to do better if she wants because O'Level Examinations are not the end. She has so many things left to do and learn. Perhaps, she may even surprise herself in the long run.
Your grades don't define you. You are a person with so many things to offer and you probably polishing talents you will come to know of in the future.
Keep on going forward and don't be trapped by the past. You can always be more than what people said about you or what you have thought about yourself. For anyone reading this, I believe in you. So, please, believe in yourself.
The writer is a Copy Editor at The Asian Age