Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Being "Gifted" Totally Blows (Part Tres)

Somehow, I survived through years of this internal torture. I had muddled through, somehow, and I was only a semester or two of classes away from graduating. I was going to be the first woman in my family to get a college degree. I applied for graduation in the late summer, and cried tears of joy because even I honestly never thought that I would make it thus far. But a part of me whispered that even though I was close enough to spit across the graduation day platform (hypothetically), I didn’t deserve to be set free of my own personal academic purgatory. I still had to pay for my sins.

But the part of me that was desperate to prove myself, and to finally finish, said “yeah, you can do this!” That part, which was so desperate to be done feeling like I didn’t belong, like I was constantly struggling just to be average, said “just make it through this last semester, and you’ll be fine.”

Now we come to the climax of this tale: my ultimate struggle to graduate, to conquer my inner bad student, and to escape with my life.

I can't even tell you how tempted I am to stop trying, to embrace my strengths and just be happy with what I have. To go on working, and just let the skills I’ve learned be enough proof of my capabilities. I can't tell you how often, even now being so close, I have to stop myself from thinking that I'll never be able to finish, that I’m just not college material.

At this point, even with so much on the line, I'm past trying to succeed. I'm just trying to survive. I can beg for understanding, but it will be for a lifetime of academic transgressions. I have become a chronic academic underachiever, in danger of failing the final test of life.
But I've been in danger of failing, in one way or another, for the past four-and-a-half years. I was in danger of failing before I even set foot on this campus. The feeling is terrifying, humbling and totally demoralizing, but it’s not new.

I know that I'm not what you might call a "good" student. But I have learned that I can be pragmatic, hilarious, successful, hard-working, and confident. And I know that everything happens for a reason, even though I might despair at not knowing why. So I can't say that I regret my actions during my academic career. I can't promise to become the kind of student that I'm not. Because if it hadn't been for the decisions I made, I might have been a great student. But I believe I would've also been a less fascinating person. And a MUCH suckier writer.

Why Being "Gifted" Totally Blows (Part Deux)

At [University], I quickly found that in this new, hard-core scholarly world, even my frantically renewed academic efforts meant little or nothing. Dozens of kids around me in each class could dance circles around me academically; they knew it, and I knew it. Though I wasn't remotely what someone would call stupid, for the first time in my life, I felt stupid.

During the first semester of my freshman year, one of my advisors thought it would be fun to put me in an advanced mathematics class. I failed that class with flying colors. I know now that I didn't have the foundation, or the discipline to put four hours of study per day into a subject that I couldn’t begin to understand, but it broke me all the same.

For me, that moment, the moment where I first realized that I could actually fail, was my emotional undoing. I had never come close to failing a class before, never done anything that was so academically irrevocable. Suddenly, I found myself wracked with fear every time I took a class that wasn't already included in my set of skills. I didn't see a challenge as learning something new and exciting, but as another chance for me to fail; another chance for me to be "less than."

This rationale would probably make no sense to the average person, especially if they've never found themselves being defined by a grade. But it made sense to me, because during my formative years, I wasn’t ever defined by anything else.

As I was experiencing the onset of academic self-loathing, I was also constantly on the prowl for other ways I could distinguish myself, ways I could feel proficient to offset my malfunction as a student. I also needed money. So, I started working thirty or more hours a week, in addition to my classes (and sometimes, instead of my classes). I was always a hard worker, and being good at my job got me the praise I felt I needed. I started to value myself by how much I could earn, and classed seemed more and more trivial, because I couldn’t perceive an immediate return on my efforts.

This was all well and good, until the exhaustion of a constant work-study struggle for survival set in.

And because I couldn't hate my job (because it fed me, naturally) I started to hate school. I blamed it for making me feel like my best wasn't good enough. I blamed school for trying to fit me into a mold that I felt I would never fit into.


Why Being "Gifted" Totally Blows (Part One)

I'm not what you might call a "good" student. When I was five, they—“they” being the powers that be of Oregonian academia—pulled me out of kindergarten and announced to my parents that I was "intellectually gifted." After that, I was never allowed to be normal again. I was put in special, after school programs for the "TAG" (Talented and Gifted) kids at my school. At the age of seven, I was forced to boil colored water in beakers and recite geography while my friends played outside.

Middle school started, and I had every hope of being one of the "cool," normal girls. Instead, I was placed in a special homeroom where we had to read Great Expectations (unabridged) and write a hundred pages of "reflective journaling" on what we thought, during a period where other kids got to socialize and play tic-tac-toe. It’s a wonder I don’t hate writing. Though I still hate Great Expectations.

My freshman year of high school, I declared that I'd had enough of being solely classified by my peers as a “smart” kid. You see, I happened to know that deep inside, there was much more than academics to me. I was also a funny kid. A talented, artistic kid. A kid who was royally sick of being pandered to and forced to enter spelling bees and adult writing contests. So I rebelled. I ran for student body office and joined three different clubs. A type of nerdyness still, yes. But I no longer had to be the "smart girl".

In fact, I had made myself so busy with all of the extracurricular stuff that my grades began to suffer. I also started to be treated like a human being. I learned to talk like a teenager instead of using four-syllable words as a rule. And I had fun. I grew socially, and actually started to become my own person. But I’d stopped writing.

By the time I was wrapping up high school, I had become so wrapped up in not being a “smart” kid that I’d forgotten how to study. I'd learned early on that if I didn't do any of my homework, I could still make B's and finally get left alone—for the most part—by those teachers who were looking for "Blue Chip" students to raise and pick on. I could have friends, and a life. But I also found that I could no longer remember how to do complex equations or place all of the countries in Africa onto a map.

When I applied for a prestigious university, I knew my chances of being accepted anywhere impressive were slim. I wanted to go to BYU, for reasons even I didn't fully understand. Now, I realize that I was driven to live somewhere far away from home, so that I could start a fresh academic slate, and fill it with mediocrity. All I had ever wanted was to be one of the “normal” students, as I hadn’t had that even in high school, because I had still been remembered as “that third grade prodigy who won all those writing contests.” However, when I was actually accepted to a good university, I didn't count on the fact that my life-long problem of feeling "too special" and "too smart" would instantly become moot, even without self-sabotage.