Up until the 8th grade I had a perfectionist complex. I held myself to the highest standards. I strived to be academically perfect. I would belittle myself for making any mistakes. My best was never good enough for my expectations. I felt insignificant: any tiny errors I made, and any perceived setbacks I had were proof of my flaws.
When grades were passed back, and everyone swarmed together asking “what did you get,” I remember the envy that would course through me if someone scored higher. I viewed it as a competition, and I saw myself as inferior to my peers. I let numbers decide my worth, my mental state, and my emotions.
I developed a strong sense of pride and ego. I grew up to be independent, only relying on myself. I absolutely refused to allow anyone to see me vulnerable. I was afraid of asking questions, because that would be admitting I couldn’t do it. The fear of failure haunted me, suffocated me, and controlled me.
In class when I knew the answer, I wouldn’t raise my hand, because the chance that I could be wrong was overwhelming. The only time I would speak was for my participation grade. During those occurrences, butterflies swarmed my stomach, my heartbeat pounded against my chest, and my hands grew sweaty. If I got the answer wrong it would further prove I was incompetent.
In my 7th grade advanced Math class, I began to finally realize this mindset was unhealthy. It was the first class where I really struggled. The lessons and concepts confused me to no end, and it frustrated me when I looked around to see my peers understanding so easily. I would spend hours on the homework, staring at one question, trying to grasp it. By the time I finished, it would be 2 am, and I would be physically and mentally drained. This cycle repeated over and over, and my stress was at an all-time high. Even after all my effort I still would score below what I wanted for myself.
It was during one of my frequent late-night homework sessions, when Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood” played in the background, and I was once again stuck staring at a math problem. It was 3 am, and the months of anxiety, stress, along with the burden of desperately wanting that A that finally got to me. I was tired of trying to obtain the unobtainable. I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes, and breathed in deeply. I said to myself “Maybe I’m not good at Math.” In that moment I admitted to myself that I wasn’t perfect, and no matter how hard I try, perfection is unachievable.
I came to the realization that I wasn’t going to be good at everything. I shouldn’t pressure myself into advanced classes just for the label of being advanced, but rather I should pursue what pertains to my interests, skills, and what would make me the happiest. There were going to be areas where I would have a difficult time understanding. Undoubtedly there was going to be material where I have questions, and that’s perfectly ok. As long as I gave it my full effort, I could be happy with myself. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, but rather it makes you brave for being able to admit that you need it.
Past the 7th grade I opted out of advanced math, and instead took honors. Honors matched my comprehension level, while also being challenging but not overwhelming. Slowly but surely, I began asking questions, and raising my hand to answer. Whereas before I was stressed to no end, now I’m more carefree. I allow myself to sit back and just relax.
Although sometimes I still hesitate when I have a question, my past mindset clawing its way back into my head, but eventually I’m able to diminish those thoughts. I’ve grown as a person past that toxic mindset, and everyday I’m happier because of it. Now when I look at my grades, I can be satisfied with knowing that I tried my best.
© Yvonne Chan. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.