Crossroads Between Heritage and Homework
I vividly remember my first time failing an assignment.
This wasn’t failing by my high standards, either – this was the proper, below-a-C-minus, failing grade. Flashback to 7th grade Algebra, more than 7 years ago at this point. Our teacher was handing back our first quiz of the year, on some supposedly easy topics. I wasn’t feeling too worried about it, and when I got my paper back, I flipped it over, expecting an A. Instead, a 65% in red ink stared back at me.
I remember my face heated up as I shoved the paper into my bag as quickly as I could. I remember barely being able to hold it together for the rest of the day, that dreaded number swirling around in my head. And I remember getting home, jumping into my bed and sobbing, unable to stop the tears rolling down my face.
Eventually I calmed down, and I was able to get started on the rest of the homework I had to do. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t erase that day from my mind - because looking back, that was the moment I realized how much of my self-worth I put into my academics.
In an Indian household like the one I grew up in, the expectation of doing well in school cannot be overstated. Good grades are not “good”, they are simply standard. My parents definitely instilled the importance of academic performance into me but tried to teach me to balance out my happiness and interests with that as well. Unfortunately, my own expectations became higher than theirs, and getting anything less than a 90% on an assignment in high school would cause me to go into a blind panic. I would stress all day about even the easiest homework assignments. And tests? Tests were the bane of my existence; I would limit myself to 3 hours of sleep sometimes just so that I could spend all night studying (even if I already knew the material). I got the grades I wanted, but most times it was at the cost of my mental health.
Then came college:
The fast-paced learning style, the difficult curriculum, and sometimes, the less-than-ideal professors. I knew that I would have to work to keep up with everything, but I could feel myself starting to drown in my stress and overthinking already – and it was only the third week of school. Something had to change, otherwise at this rate making it through the school year was going to be almost impossible.
A large part of my college experience, aside from meeting new people, gaining independence, and finding what I wanted to major in, was learning to be more lenient with myself academically. As a byproduct of my culture’s views on grades, I had almost ingrained this idea in me that school comes before everything else in my life. It was only after coming to college and physically seeing that my mentality in high school wasn’t going to help me succeed here, that I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was pushing myself too hard. It wasn’t an overnight process by a long shot. But it was the start of trying to “un-learn” the mentality that my grades defined my self-worth, and if I didn’t do well, then that reflected on me as a person. People had told me in the past that, “your grades are not who you are”. But it didn’t hit me until I experienced that in practice.
I tried to let myself be more okay with getting a B on an assignment if I knew I tried my best. I started prioritizing my work more and making sure I gave more attention to the things that were worth more points, instead of getting overly stressed about everything. Most of all, I attempted to get out of my own head. I started making new friends, exploring clubs, going to social events around campus – trying to make my life about more than just studying for the next test. I started really enjoying life, instead of just living it.
I’m definitely still working on it today. Old habits die hard, and when I have a lot on my plate academically, I feel myself falling back into my “panic mode” that I had throughout high school. I’m doing my best to remind myself, though, that even if I’m not doing perfect, I am doing my best with my classes, and that is enough. I am enough for myself, at the end of the day. And at the crossroads of heritage and homework, I managed to carve out a third path – that of happiness.
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