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Mental Health

Learning Not to Let Your Grades Define You – Good or Bad

We’ve all fallen into the trap of letting something meaningless define our self-worth, and usually it’s not something we assigned value for ourselves, it’s something society taught us to value. As a woman and a self-diagnosed over achiever, the two things I’ve found contributing to feelings of depression and low self-esteem the most during this pandemic are the opinions of men and grades, both of which are constructs. What makes the male gaze valuable? What makes a few letters on a piece of paper valuable?  They’re valuable because at one point in time someone said so. So how can we make these things less important and learn to place value in the things about ourselves?

In the early days of the pandemic, like so many of us, I felt depressed. I felt ugly and tired all the time. I stopped being active, I lost motivation, and at the time it felt like I lost something of what it felt like to be me. I felt like my life had gone from a peak to a valley all at once, and it wasn’t until I started being able to go out more, until the summer ended and I was ready to start studying again that I started to feel like myself once more. The more men I had hitting on me, the hotter I felt. The more tests I studied for and passed the more I felt like myself. I think that we can all agree that letting compliments from men define how attractive I feel is a load of crap, so why do we let our grades become a part of our identities?

I am especially guilty of this and overtime my 4.0 has become part of my identity, to the point that it’s triggered a nearly obsessive anxiety response. I look at a B on a test as if I’ve failed it and I don’t feel truly good about anything unless it comes back to me with a perfect score. And on the other hand, I know people who don’t think of themselves as smart because they have to work hard to get passing grades. So why do we let them define us, good or bad? Why does a letter or a number become so much a part of our identities? And is there a way to stop it? Is there a way for us to be proud of our accomplishments or to prioritize our studies without turning it into something that defines us and then eventually destroys us?

I may have straight A’s now, but it hasn’t always been that way. I’ll never forget the first failing grade I received in high school, how horrible I felt. I cried all night that night because much like during this pandemic, I had lost a bit of myself. And in my experience, the only way to overcome letting grades define your self-worth is to face it head-on and redefine your self worth for yourself. After years of introspection, I’ve chosen not to let my grades define me. Instead of thinking of myself as Lauren the straight-A student, I think of myself as Lauren the hard-worker. As long as I worked hard for it, I can still be true to myself whether this semester ends with another perfect entry for my transcript or if I get a few grades that don’t meet my high standards. Because in the end, while straight A’s might help you get into a fancier grad school, they don’t teach you any valuable life skills. But learning to work hard for the things that matter to you is a skill that is invaluable.

It’s not fool proof. I still find myself planning my life goals around my grades, but it helps me to do my best not to let it define me. Grades are not who you are, and they aren’t even what college is all about. College is about learning, not just in class but also learning how to be an adult. It’s about growing, trying new things, and making memories. And nobody should let grades limit who they are or who they can be or what they can do.

My name is Lauren, I'm currently a senior at the University of Hawaii at Manoa double majoring in Chinese and communications, I'm also a very passionate Planned Parenthood volunteer/intern. In my free time I like to dance salsa and read books on the beach.
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