I remember when I was six years old. I was in the first grade. Our teacher’s name was An. She was a funny young woman who also taught swimming classes. She had curly brown hair down to her shoulders and pink cheeks. We messed with her all the time.
From knocking on our desk to make her think someone was at the door to putting thumbtacks on her chair. She handled these pranks very well. Although I feel like we sometimes pushed her a little too far.
She was an incredibly kind woman and was always very creative in class. One project we did as a class was taking an avocado pit and letting it grow in a little pot. We would water it regularly and watch it grow. Some grew quickly and beautifully, some didn’t grow at all. Harold’s avocado plant turned out to be completely misshapen and weird looking. We would say it was handicapped.
I went swimming every Wednesday and took judo classes. I was quite good at both like I was with most sports. I liked judo, but it sometimes bored me a little. There wasn’t that much action, there was mostly a lot of crawling on the mats and learning how to fall. We would sometimes spar though.
The head of the judo school was Cedric Thaeymans, a Belgian champion and European silver medalist. I rolled with him a couple of times and although he was obviously much bigger and stronger than me, I often found ways to squirm out of his takedowns. I assume he let me. Until one day, my nanny sat my mother down and told her “I need to tell you something”.
“Mr Thaeymans said Eric was a natural and he’s very talented.”. My mother sighed of relief, and later told me. So that’s when I stopped going to judo classes. Because I thought I was already good enough. There was really no reason to prove myself if I already knew I could do it.
That’s an attitude I’ve often had in life. If I had any indication that I was talented at something, I claimed victory and stopped working for it. Because I didn’t need to work. I was talented.
A similar thing happened when I was in third grade. I didn’t do my homework, didn’t pay attention in class, and gave back my tests after only filling in half of the questions.
When my mother confronted me about it, I cried and said I was stupid. I was too dumb to concentrate and I couldn’t get good grades.
This is when the school advised my parents to have me take an IQ test. It was horrible. They would take me away during breaks and P.E. to do tests. They robbed me of the only things I enjoyed at school.
So I would sit there, crying my eyes out while a psychologist tried to calm me down and ask me questions. Reluctantly, I answered her questions and solved the puzzles with which she tasked me.
After a few weeks, the results were in. The psychologist said it was possible that the results were a little bit offset and could be higher because I was so reluctant. 137. “Gifted” is what they called it. And they were stupid enough to tell me.
Naturally, I felt like a genius. I told all the other kids about it and from that moment on, grades didn’t matter. Because I was gifted. No matter what the report cards said. The school had me do special kinds of exercises and homework, which were more difficult than the normal program. This part I didn’t like.
I had a label on me. I was gifted. Smart. Intelligent. And this stimied my learning. Because I felt like there was no need to study. I didn’t have to do my homework or try hard at all. I could spend entire days daydreaming and still get high marks on my tests.
Until I couldn’t. When I got to secondary school, I kept the same attitude. I was above it all and I was too good for school. Everything we learned was stupid and I was smart. Although my grades dropped a little bit.
My exams often went fine, most of the tests too. Except some classes had a lot of assignments that were very influential on report cards. And you needed to actually make them to get any grades. And I didn’t. I didn’t study at home. And I didn’t pay attention in class. To be able to reproduce something, you must have first at least observed it.
So I failed the second year of secondary. I got held back. I decided to go to boarding school. Yes, it was actually my own decision. And it was a very mature decision, at 14 years old. I decided to leave my school and my friends to go to a boarding school, where I would learn how to study and acquire a work ethic.
I chose a strict Jesuit boarding school and figured that would straighten me out. It was strict alright. I found that out the hard way, the first week. I was late in line, so I had to write 2 pages. This was the standard penalty for infractions. I didn’t do them the first day, because I had class, and then lunch, and then breaks, and I couldn’t do them during study times. So 2 became 4. 4 became 8. 8 became 16. 16 became 32. 32 became 64, and that’s when the supervisor intervened and asked me why I simply wasn’t doing my punishment. I said I never had time to do it because I was always busy. And that’s when he said, “You’re supposed to do it when you’re on breaks, dummy.”.
Boarding school didn’t help me study. They just put us all in a big room with magnificent murals. And everyone was supposed to study. Which I had never done before and didn’t learn to do then. Keeping my mind occupied was no problem whatsoever. I could daydream about all sorts of things for as long as I wanted.
So then I went back to my old school for a year and failed several classes at the end of the year. My head teacher gave me a choice. I could be held back one more year, go to a professional school, or advance to the next grade on condition that I pass it.
I didn’t take any of those and went to a new boarding school, to take the jury exams, which would allow me to skip the grade I lost.