Stories for Lent: #36 We are all learning

It took me a while to learn how to read and write. When I was learning English at school, I was at the bottom of my class. It was the first class I got a bad grade in, and the shame was so terrible I sat at the back of the classroom because I was too ashamed to sit at the front. A little over the year later, I got the highest marks in the school-wide test.

I was always a bit of an overachiever.

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The curriculum at my public school (all three of them) was hard. I hear it’s only gotten harder since I graduated, so I suppose I got lucky to be born when I was. But it was pretty tough when I was there, too, and it sometimes felt like it was the hardest thing to ever exist.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had few friends and not much of a social life, so I had little else to do but study and focus on my grades. Periods of intense study followed by exams followed by intense boredom – that was my schedule, year in, year out. And despite my belief that it was all so very hard, I kept coming on top, kept getting good grades, kept scoring high on the exams. I had a pretty inflated sense of self by the time I got to university.

And then, suddenly, it didn’t matter.

I was in a new country, juggling three languages in my head, trying to navigate living on my own while simultaneously taking on a new course, and it was hard. And there was no way to cheat the system, no technique to solving tests or writing essays. Suddenly, I had to think for myself, really think, and it was hard.

For someone who had secretly believed themselves to be a genius, it was a long fall.

And it didn’t get easier, because I had to apply for placements, do work, report, reflect, report again, go back to uni, apply for graduate jobs, apply for more graduate jobs, get none, do an internship between a Bachelor’s and a Master’s, get my arse handed to me several times in training, finish a novel and have it rejected by over 30 people, and face the fact that I’ll just have to write a better one next. It’s been a six-year, ongoing event in which my ego got a beating, and unlike an athletic event, there is no end of it in sight. The ego will either have to grow stronger and pull its weight, or pack up and go home so that the rest of me doesn’t have to stop and baby it all the way through. Either option would have the same outcome – at least I’d keep moving.

It’s hard to accept you aren’t the big fish you thought you were. I’m still struggling with that. But there’s hope just yet – people had enough faith in me to let me do a PhD.

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