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If I were to wish you a happy independence day, all you who received your results the same day, would that be a little too ironic? But it is a kind of independence, isn’t it, when you finally see those alphabets on your screen? Independence from the stress, the pressure, the teasing remarks and the constant internal warring between fear and hope. But I do also realize that unfortunately, for some of you, the worst of all that I mentioned might just have descended upon you. My sympathies and sincere prayers are with you. And it’s even worse when people closest to you make you feel like nothing instead of being supportive and sympathizing.
Now you may wonder what the point of this article is and where I am going with it. It’s very simple. Just this: Don’t lose heart. Whatever else you do, just keep your wits about you and do not let a bad grade get to you. Your life is infinitely more precious than a grade.
Easy to say for you, you’re probably muttering, thinking who this author is and why is she preaching stuff that she probably knows nothing about? Because why would anyone who actually knows what it’s like to be expecting grades tell you to keep heart at a time when the stress gets unbearably high- the nervous flutters, a coldness in the hands, stomach becoming really sensitive all of a sudden, a constant worry and what-ifs, thinly veiled threats from Abbu and Ammi about rescinding privileges, fears of not landing in a good university, of being labelled a nikamma, of becoming the hub of all khandan jokes and ridicule and to have to endure aunties boasting about their own genius kids, which then angers Amma and Abba and the cycle starts again. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.
But we’re all passengers of the same boat. I too received my results but with a pleasant anticipation and excitement, which existed even before I’d ever seen what grades I’d scored. Alhamdulillah, I’m blessed with parents who did not pressurize me about grades, but they probably didn’t have to because I was already way too hard on myself. Let me just describe it a bit, how it was for me: I worried myself sick, in a very literal way and often so bad, that after my exams wouldn’t be able to leave the bed for about a week or two. I had a constant stomach ulcers problem, which you can ask any biology student (or just google it), results majorly from stress.
About 10,20 days before the exams I would start having trouble sleeping, often sleeptalking, dreaming of some trouble in the exam room. I would measure my personality, justify my existence in terms of my grade (having thoughts like, “I’m not good enough at anything else, so let’s just be good enough at this one thing”). You can imagine how badly it affected me, considering the grades as a key element in defining me which would be shattering when I didn’t get the results I expected – and I had always really high expectations from myself – ridiculously high sometimes.
I mean I cried (fat tears and red splotchy face- you can imagine it was serious) when I got a few B’s in my O’Levels because I thought that was a bad grade. It wasn’t until two years ago that I realised how stupid I’d been- I went to this education expo and this guy from Queen Mary University asked me about the grades Id scored in O’Levels – and when I told him he looked at me impressed, and said, “What, no grade below B? That’s really good.” And then it hit me how much I’d been undermining and overexerting myself.
The turning point in my life came after I gave my O’Levels, back in 2015 June. Like most kids, I was confused and did not know which path to take next in life (or the stream in A Levels) and took quite an unexpected turn. I applied to government colleges for inter – my reasoning was that if it didn’t work out, at least I wouldn’t have cost my parents any serious amount of money – and it turned out I was quite right. The whole affair was quite funny actually. As I’d always planned to do A Levels, I was so unprepared for Inter.
I remember standing in the courtyard of a government office with my mother, staring blankly and with rising panic at the five lines where you state the college of your preference, also based on your marks in Matric/O’levels. I had no idea about the names of the college, let alone the good ones. We did end up writing two or three names, acquired by asking people around and my mom dialing up her friends to get some info. And did I mention that it was the last day of submitting forms? It was one heck of a day.
However, stumbling upon this road less traveled turned out to be a very good thing in my life, a pivotal moment. The thing was, I’d taken the humanities field in intermediate and have a strong educational base, it was painfully easy. I rarely ever graced the college with my presence, and most of the time the books sat on the shelf gathering dust (please don’t think I’m bragging here – you’d agree if you’ve seen those books – I mean Intermediate Psychology is a pathetic joke – an idea only reinforced strongly when right next year I took the same subject in AS.
That course book was thinner than half of an abridged Oxford classics, the version for primary classes. I, myself, however, did not gather dust in that time. If anything, I polished off the rust on the mental gears. I gave time to myself, getting to know myself, loving myself, working out my issues, working on my mental health, tending to my hobbies and passions. It took time and dedication. I read and I listened to people who had achieved something in their life. I learned from them. I came to realize that the way I had life figured was so so wrong.
Life is not an algebraic equation or a chemical equilibrium. 2A + A is not always 3A. It doesn’t balance on both sides like the moles of a solution. Life doesn’t work in the domino sequence either. If one card falls, it does not mean your whole life falls. C’mon, we’ve all heard the story. Bad grade in OL = failing to gain admission to a good college = no good college= bad grades in AL= failing to gain admission to good university= bad university = professional value low = Result: no company wants to hire you/ No good family wants your rishta ( and to add humour you can continue on: no job = no food = death).
BUT it’s not only the latter part that’s ridiculous. The whole premise of the story is ridiculous, human life and human nature are so infinitesimally complex that you can never, I repeat never, isolate one factor and deem it responsible for the future failure. Ask us psychology kids – in a case study, even though you may have your clear-cut variables, there are always factors that put the reliability and validity of the study into question. No two people EVER give exactly the same results. Our personalities are as varied as our fingerprints. So if the shoe does not fit everybody, how can a single, predetermined lifestyle fit everybody?
So what if you failed in chemistry? Maybe it’s not your subject. Maybe you should drop it – and you’ll still remain in engineering, mind you. You may have a passion only for maths – well then you can start by looking at other options to pair it up with. Maybe you just are not a science person, your brain is high on empathizing quotient – why don’t you think about moving to humanities, where you might score As almost effortlessly because you enjoy it? The point is, KNOW yourself so that you can HELP yourself. And those are not all the options that are available.
Maybe the problem is not in the subjects, but rather in your study style. It could be that you never took studies all that seriously until now, and so you’re not equipped with techniques for doing well in college. In that case, you need to work on your learning methods, your techniques, exam taking tips, note-taking, time-management (Youtube is filled with plenty of videos on these topics – for those of you interested, search for college info geek). Perhaps you would like to take a break and have a taste of practical life – and that is a good option if thought out and followed through wisely.
That practical perspective can make a huge difference when you return to studies. I’m a HUGE advocate of gap years, having reaped the benefits of it myself – for example: appearing in A-levels with a calmly, and not having to go for any retakes because I chose subjects I was actually passionate about. And to be very honest, most universities really don’t mind your age as much as your capabilities – in case the thought of being a year behind your peers bothers you.
The world is full of endless possibilities in this age and day. Being a Youtuber and earning money was an unfathomable idea twenty years ago, but today it’s a profitable profession for most people. So be smart and sensible. Do not let yourself be consumed by your stress and mental problems.
It all comes down to this: Don’t rush. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t lose yourself in the mindless rat-race. Make conscious decisions for yourself – you are no longer a child. Learn about yourself. Don’t be afraid of stepping into the unknown, less trodden path if it leads to what you love. The key to this whole perplexing situation of figuring out life is contained in just two simple words, “Know Thyself”.