Bad Grades = ‘Bleak Future’: The Younger Me Didn’t Know Any Better
“Bad grades lead to bad future”. let’s put that thought where it belongs – the trashcan.
Growing up, I was ‘overshadowed’ by a superstar sister who always came first in class, participated in debates and quiz competitions – and aced them too.
I, on the other hand, chased butterflies in the garden and dreaded PTA meetings where teachers only had one thing to say: “We were so surprised when we heard she’s Aroha’s sister, given her low grades.”
With my report cards always reflecting 50’s and 60s, or 70’s if I did well, I never felt bad, never felt I was unaccomplished (mostly because I was still in the fifth standard). It was all okay. I grew up in a family where my parents did not keep pushing me to be a doctor or an engineer.
(Though, sometimes I wish they had, since I’m often clueless about what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life.)
My parents were never angry at me for getting a bad grade. They definitely got angry though if I hid my report card from them. They never compared me to my sister or called me stupid. Just asked me to work harder, without doubting my capability or my intelligence.
But the outside world made me feel completely useless. At every family get-together, it was always “What grade did you get? Aah. And what was the highest?”, “These days admissions are so difficult. Look at your sister, she got 90 percent but had to settle for Economics”, “If you want to be successful, you should aim for 95 at least.”
I have no idea at what point it all got to me. But when it did, it crushed me. At the end of each year, friends of my parents would gather around and congratulate my sister on her excellent report card, but looked at me sympathetically.
They called me ‘jovial’ to gloss over the fact that I had performed poorly, often poking fun at the fact that I lived in my own world.
Every year, it was the same story. I don’t know if it was my own laziness or my unconscious rebellion, but I hated studying for school. I never wanted to do my homework and came up with the lamest excuses for not doing it.
Every year, I tried to start afresh, but three months into the academic year, my parents would be called to school, where teachers would complain about how I never did my homework. An annual ritual of being humiliated in class for being in the bottom ten.
At times, I did get into the competitive mode and try to do well. It did work at times and that would encourage me for a while. But when people said, “Oh you scored well like your sister,” it would just make me give it all up again.
The fact that I was okay being an average student or that I was my own entity did not seem sit well with people. Of course, I didn’t know it then that I did not have to care about people’s shallow opinions.
Thanks to my dad’s transferable job and the five-year age gap between me and my sister, I did get to a new school where my sister’s achievements didn’t set the benchmark for me.
But gradually, my own inability to process maths problems in a fraction of a second or my disinterest in drawing the diagram of the diaphragm, saw me among the average students again.
This time, my teachers weren't so harsh though. They only told me how I wouldn’t be able to take up science, would never go to an IIT, and would be unsuccessful for the rest of my life.
And it did happen. My Class 12 marks were so low that I couldn’t study any “good” subject like Science, Economics or even English, in college.
A troublesome summer and buckets of tears later, I found a college that would take me in. Of course, I had to make do with History in one of the bottom-rung colleges of Delhi University.
Of course, that gave my extended family, and the world at large, plenty of fodder for gossip. “So you couldn’t get Economics Hons in the evening college either?” they would ask.
I was only redeemed in their eyes after I got into a respectable institution called JNU, although I don’t know how they feel about it now. But for those two years, I enjoyed their respect. It didn’t matter that I was still studying History. I was at a good institution and my “future was all set”.
If only that were true. But it wasn’t. At 18, when students are expected to make the ‘right’ career decisions for life, I messed up by choosing History.
In a pre-Quora era, if you googled “career options after History”, only ‘teacher’ or ‘UPSC’ came up. Amazingly clueless, I messed up further, and chose to prepare for UPSC exams after my Masters.
Result – two years of isolation, depression – yet another UPSC reject with no future.
In hindsight, I’m not sure if all that happened was good or bad. I’m not denying the fact that I made bad decisions or the fact that I let people mess up my thinking. As I broadened my horizons and my friend circle, I realised that there was much more to life than bad grades and self-pity.
The change, of course, did not happen overnight. But if I could go back to the past, I would make my younger self believe that my marks have nothing to do with my future, dim or bright.
For the longest time, I believed I had no skill, no talent, no ability. I thought I had a bleak future because I couldn’t score more than 70 percent. I didn’t think I could be a smart person or had the aptitude to pursue something of my liking.
But better late than never, over the years, I came to my senses and realised that one has nothing to do with the other.
As a kid, I used to tell myself that if I became famous and successful, I’d go back to all the teachers who humiliated me, let them see what I’d achieved, and walk away. But that seems such a childish thought now. I’ve got real world problems to take care of.
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