How I Went From Star Student to Just a Nobody with Anxiety: Every “Gifted” Student’s Nightmare

Because my parents were immigrant parents, that meant that I, being the first child, was going to be perfect. I was going to be smart and athletic and Harvard would kill to have me because my parents certainly didn’t break their backs working in a foreign country for me to only get B’s. This seems like a stereotypical Asian trope used in really bad comedies but ask most first-generation older kids and the pressure is there to be everything our parents could not.


When I was in fifth grade, my parents were thrilled to hear that my school wanted to put me several grades above. Thankfully, they realized I was nowhere near ready for skipping grades, but that hidden truth, that I had to live up to these standards, was set in stone.


It wasn’t hard to get good grades, for the most part. High school was easy enough, and in the subjects I struggled (because math hates me), I still managed to finesse my way out with high grades.


The problem was that I didn’t develop a healthy attitude towards grades. Any sign that I would be doing badly, and I would freak out. Big projects and final exams gave me cramps from how nervous I was at the thought of failing and having to come home to show my parents that they were wrong about me, that I wasn’t a genius.


When your father raises you to say that you’re going to be a cardiologist when you grow up, you don’t have the option to fail.


So, to turn back on them and decide to go to a school so far away and relatively unknown for a major that wasn’t health, finance or law-related? It terrified me.


But what I wasn’t prepared for was actually having to deal with realizing I truly was not anything super special.


Growing up with those extreme standards of bringing home good grades, I had adopted the idea that yes, of course, I’m extremely smart. Yeah, I probably could be a doctor. Anything less, and the struggles my parents had gone through to get my family here would be for nothing. So, when I was finally in college, I realized I was sitting next to people that were already published, or interning for big-name companies, maybe running their own companies-- I felt so out of the loop. It was as if I had thought I was running my last lap in a race only to find out I had another one to go…and that everyone had finished without me.


I was anxious because I couldn’t see that 1) grades don’t determine everything in life, 2) there are so many factors behind why grades shouldn’t determine your level of success and 3) forcing myself to focus on what everyone else was doing was making me lose my own focus on myself.


I had left New York for Florida because I had a bad relationship with my family and basically wanted the chance to completely start over without having to have them nearby. But I had failed to lose the toxic mentality that they (unknowingly) raised me to believe was ok. I spent the first couple of months at UT with the worst anxiety because I was fully invested in stressing over the idea that I had nothing going for me. I didn’t fully give myself the chance to find things I loved and the people I truly wanted to be with.


I won’t say I’ve completely abandoned stressing over grades. It does help that I’m a senior though (senioritis is such a real thing). But I have definitely learned that stressing over one letter will do more than ruin my day; it robs me of my peace and mental health. More importantly, it robs me of the chance to be passionate about the things I do love and the things I want to do.


It’s also taken me my whole college experience to learn that other people’s successes are not my failures; that I can be happy for others and support them and still be able to do my own thing. Ultimately, what’s for me will always be for me- whether I get an A or a C.