Good Bad-Student Privilege™

When I was younger, I would get so excited for school the next morning, that I would actually have difficulty falling asleep sometimes. I was the kid that raised their hand for almost every question with that “call on me or I’ll die” expression plastered on their face. I was, as my report cards reminded me, a pleasure to have in class. With this behavior came a few inconsistencies; things that didn’t quite match my Try Hard Aesthetic.

They began making themselves known in second grade, around the time when actual grades became a thing. One of the most extreme things I did was psyche myself out so bad during tests that I was basically made exempt from them because my teachers couldn't calm me down. Fortunately for me, when you’re eight, cute, and visibly trying your best you can get away with a lot, or at least I did. Hence what I have come to call: Good "Bad-Student" Privilege. I was a good student in the sense that I cared incredibly deeply about learning. I always wanted to genuinely understand things. This is a trait I pride myself on to this day. On top of this, however, I became a perfectionist. 

Loving learning for myself wasn't enough. I became obsessive, and when I didn't reach my standard of "success" I would choose to not show any signs of effort. This lead to skipping class when I was confused about a topic to "research it myself" (read: crying in the bathroom) or not turning in work because I "didn't like the finished product" (read: not even trying assignments because they seemed too daunting). This, unfortunately, bled into things I wasn't nervous about doing, fun assignments that weren't even all that time-consuming. Everything overwhelmed me and I pretty much stopped trying altogether. Yet time and again, my teachers would give me second chances…and third and fourth and fifth chances. When I passed classes, I often understood that my teachers had passed me, not that I had passed their classes. I somehow managed to impress them by accomplishing the bare minimum. “Ali, are you actually turning in your homework on time? Or do my eyes deceive me…” I felt like all of this was part of the whole "Bad Good-Student" paradigm. I was once good, I could actually put in effort rather than just try to put in the effort, but I had become bad. I did all the things a bad student would do, but I was still good, right? It seemed as though they were giving me the privileges of a good student while I continued to display bad student tendencies.

In my mind, my teachers must have seen me as good, but I felt like I knew the truth. A truth they couldn't see. I knew I was bad. I wasn't what they thought I was. What did they see in me, anyway? Why were they trusting me to take their opportunities if every time I continued to let them down? I was losing a battle to myself, I thought, and for some reason, they couldn't tell. So why? Because they still saw the effort, I guess. The effort fighting so hard against the layers of perfectionism holding it back from breaking the surface. It got to the point where I would lay in bed and wonder how I had tricked everyone so well without even consciously trying to. It seemed more plausible that I was a good liar than a good communicator. I had everyone fooled into thinking I was worth helping when really I was as much of a lost cause as someone who never believed in themself in the first place. I think you can see where this is leading. I had developed this whole concept, of "Bad Good-Student Privilege" because this convoluted idea was easier for me to rationalize than the possibility of me just being enough

In my most depressed state, a doctor of mine encouraged me to research Imposter Syndrome. So I did, and from the blue glow of my laptop screen in the dark of my bedroom came a very unsettling sense that maybe I was wrong. Maybe people had faith in me for a reason. It's been almost three years since then, and while I still struggle to understand why professors, employers, friends, and family continue to think I am worth working with, I have since realized something that has completely changed the way I view things. If everyone in your life is telling you you're worth it, believe them. Why is the one voice in your head telling you that you're faking your competence more trustworthy than the abundance of external life-lines being thrown at you because the people throwing them think you have a real chance at success. 

It's hard to feel like you are deserving of help sometimes, or even love. But if people are continuing to help you, to love you, to advocate for you-- you are worth it. You get where you are because of what you do. The good people see in you is real. Liars don't worry that they're liars in the same way that bad people don't worry that they're bad; they are too busy worrying about the end result, calculating the necks they will step on to get to the top. If you are impressed by where you are, leave it at that. Don't tell yourself you don't deserve it. You deserve what you've worked for, you HAVE worked for it. Stop convincing yourself that you haven't. 

I wrote this article for anyone who struggles with this as well, but I also wrote it for myself, because I have really needed this reminder lately. Ali, if your professor wants to help you, let them, don't extrapolate over why they would bother helping such a fundamentally bad student.