What I’ve come to realise is that I went through my school years with a sense of being a competitor and that to beat my friends with an A grade or top mark was more important than really connecting to them and building true and meaningful relationships.
This continued into my university years, which came as a bit of a shock, as the level of retention required was so intense that I began to doubt myself and my intelligence. A few sobering ‘Passes’ made me question my value and my worth. So, I dug in deeper, crammed for exams, worked out ways to ‘beat the system’ by knowing what was required to write a good essay or achieve in exams. I had learnt how to play the game.
Of course, as soon as an exam or course was over, I completely forgot what I had so seriously crammed, because it had no meaningful connection to my life; it was simply a means to an end to get me into my chosen profession. Quite often, many simple concepts and phenomena that I had a natural curiosity for, particularly in relation to Geography and Environmental Studies, were presented in such a complicated way that they ended up bearing no real connection to what I was observing and understanding from my own inner wisdom – not to mention a lack of joy in the process. Studying for some subjects felt like getting blood from a stone and the reading material was so heavy that it was like wading through mud to understand the particular language and terminology that each subject required.
Nevertheless, I succeeded in gaining a degree with a fair spattering of High Distinctions and Distinctions, which is what I felt I deserved, as I saw myself as being a very intelligent person.
Meanwhile, my personal life was a mess. I had made many poor choices early on, and there was a domino effect in how each of these choices led to experiences that had me questioning myself, my place in the world, my purpose and my worth.
Something wasn’t gelling. I was telling myself that once I had my degree, I would be successful in the eyes of the world. Having letters after my name would surely make me acceptable, even though there was a gnawing erosion of whether this was indeed true. I was clumsy socially and found it difficult to engage in conversations that asked me to be honest and real, rather than spout my knowledge, which gave me a sense of superiority over others, because of how much I knew. Ouch!
I entered my career as a teacher almost by default. I found myself in a situation where I was looking for a job and years of being a ‘perpetual student’ needed to find a practical and real outlet.
The sense of needing to be intelligent to achieve as a teacher felt very strong in the working environment. This meant perpetually living in my head, my thoughts on constant alert, always planning and over-thinking every situation.
The upshot of all of this was that I continued to feel disconnected from others and more noticeably from myself. It wasn’t long before I began to feel exhausted and overwhelmed in my profession, with a constant sense of anxiety that what I was producing wasn’t enough.
It has been a gradual process to let go of the notion that my worth and value as a teacher and a person is measured by my level of intelligence – a measure that is now so frequently applied to the students I teach by our current education system. Observing students like myself who strive to be at the top has been very sobering. I see their elation when they get a good grade, but also their disappointment when they are not top of the class. And those students who will never make it to the top by the standards set at school can give up and feel dumb or doubt their value.
It is through observing these students and the pressure they are under to prove their intelligence in a very narrow way that I’ve gradually been able to question and let go of my own attachment to being ‘an intelligent person’.
What I’ve come to appreciate are the values that I hold which are far more worthwhile to myself and the people I connect with than any level of so-called intelligence will ever be. It is the qualities of dedication, true care and understanding that I now bring to my work place and profession. Through embracing and expanding these qualities, I am able to truly connect with my students and allow them to acknowledge and appreciate the qualities that they hold.
Through this I have found my true purpose and a sense of true worth that no grade could ever match.