You are not a number: Thoughts for year 12 kids

Monday, December 17, 2012

Interrupting my unplanned internet holiday (I'm studying again! It's time-consuming. Also, Christmas. It's the most stressful time of the year) with some words for Victorian Year 12 students, who got their ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) today. And other recent school-leavers or marks-receivers or whoever listens to my advice.

I think when you are freaking out about something like receiving marks, and later feeling really pathetic because you didn't do as well as you hoped, it's helpful to break it down and see it for what it really is. You have likely spent the year (and one to five years before then, depending on the intensity of your school/parents) being told this is your future on the line and this is the most important number of your life and shouldn't you be studying?

Parents/teachers/assorted other adults who say these things: I don't think you are helping, I think you're just stressing a kid out. (I am saying this as someone who already stresses out. Maybe other kids need someone telling them don't mess this up. I don't think anyone really needs it constantly for a whole year, though.)

But, that's over now. Thank goodness. Let's say you have your number now, and you are disappointed. This is what I want you to remember: It is just a bunch of tests.

It is not your entire future.
It is not how intelligent you are.
It is certainly not your importance or capacity or worth as a human being.

No matter how low your marks, there are always pathways towards becoming what you want to become.
There are always other opportunities. There are always other possibilities.

Drive and motivation and creativity can count for a lot more than a single number.
No matter how low your marks, someone else likely aspired to do as well as you did.

I think perspective is important. I think I still haven't got any. I'm still disappointed my marks were only above-average after a childhood of doing really well at school. I'm still wondering whether I should publicly admit to that, admit to only-above-average.
 But I want you to know that. I want you to know that you don't need to get amazing marks to do well. (I like to think I'm doing well.) 
I think in ten years I won't care.
I think in ten years I'll be able to be honest with people. And when someone says they received 99.95 or whatever else (I doubt anyone will say this ten years out of high school, but hypothetically speaking), I won't be vague and tiptoe around the truth. I won't tie up my self-worth in external validation of my intelligence.

I don't think you should either. This is easier said than done.
I am trying to become less fixated with the idea that I need to make everyone think I am a genius.
I'm being honest on the internet, despite people who think that's a crap idea, for your benefit.

I think no matter what, know that your contribution to the world is not dependent on how well you did in high school.

Anyone who judges you based on how well you did in school is an idiot. Really.
I know plenty of smart people who didn't even finish high school.
You have no idea at this point what the trajectory of your life might be, and what adventures might be ahead of you.

You should be proud of yourself, for effort, no matter what. I know you might think effort doesn't count for much in the 'real world' (I am not sure this real world exists), and sometimes that's true. Sometimes you put a lot of time and work into something and it doesn't amount to anything, but you learn a lot from it (I know this is true in book-writing). Other times you put effort in and something wonderful results.

You are not just this number, even if that's the only thing the Admissions folks at universities take into consideration. (They do have to figure out who to let in somehow.)
You have so many intelligences that couldn't even possibly be measured on a Maths exam or in a Literature essay. (I wish novel-writing counted towards the ATAR.)
You have so many skills and passions that will lead you into interesting and fulfilling work as an adult. I don't even know you, but I know this.
You are always learning. There is so much more to know about in the world. Untold mysteries, folks! That's terrifically exciting.

And if you're happy with your marks that is really wonderful. Don't freak out too much about living up to the expectations of others, or the expectations of yourself.

You are so much more than a number. This does not decide the rest of your life. Maybe it just changes the plan slightly. We are on a spinning rock in an unpredictable universe, though, guys. The plan is bound to change.
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