Failure as a Gifted Kid

Before any one letter hits the page, I hesitate. I run through the usual questions.

Is this the right word?

What are you trying to say?

And finally,

Does anybody even care about what I have to say?

The answers inevitably come back as no, I don’t know, and probably not.

The intense pressure I feel to make every word count, to make every point flawless and entirely coherent is debilitating in the absolute worst of ways. I have ideas bouncing around in my skull until 5am but can’t get them out until I’m tired enough to not care what I’m saying, and those are the once in a blue moon articles I publish. Then I crash, and wait another couple of months until the stars align, inspiration hits and my inner self-doubt is quiet.

From the moment of conception my parents have been telling me I am smart. From the moment I stepped into school, junior kindergarten forward, I’ve found following instructions and getting above average marks to be so simple that I didn’t truly worry about a grade until Grade 10 Math, after I’d been moved to a “Gifted” program in high school. Math was never my strongest subject, and faced with the prospect of potentially getting a poor mark I dropped out of the gifted and university-level math for the class between college-level and university-level for grade 11. It was no contest. I got a fantastic mark and never had to learn how to cope with failure, or not being one of the smartest kids in my class.

At that gifted school, I rationalized my 80 average (compared to the 90s of the other gifted kids) with the idea that I simply didn’t have the time to study — I played sports and had a social life to maintain, you know?

It was a pattern, a pattern I didn’t notice until university. Any time I felt a little hardship, a little resistance to my A, I quit. Swimming lessons, ringette, math, science, you name it, I probably quit it. My entire identity was perched on one word — smart. I am smart. I am gifted. I don’t make mistakes, I don’t get bad grades, and grades mean everything. What does this leave you with years later?

I’ll tell you — it’s a feeling of extreme anxiety and an identity crisis when something doesn’t work out. It’s racing thoughts, a weight on your chest reminiscent of an elephant and hesitation to do absolutely anything risky. Every time I publish an article online (you know, all 3 times that has happened,) I panic.

What if nobody reads it?

What if it doesn’t make sense?

What if I sound like a total idiot?

What if someone argues my point and I can’t think of an answer?

I do meticulous research because of those voices, at least. What a bonus.

I even re-type my thank yous to people who take the time to read what I write. All I have to do is say thanks and I’ve typed 3 variations to it and I can’t tell which one looks better! Is “Thank you so much!” too impersonal? Is “Thanks!” too short? Should I use emojis? In this era of instant, easy communication, where I could post a gif in response and have that be entirely legitimate, why is this so hard?

Phase 2: Welcome to university, Holly, where you and you alone are responsible for your academic success.

“No worries!” I said, entirely confident that I would be an A student for the rest of my academic career.

“Screw you!” said university, throwing me into a mandatory statistics class in my third year, after 4 full school years of not doing math.

I’d still not really tried in university. It was easy to get A’s and B’s for the first two years, and I could feel my attention level slipping. I was bored. In fact, I am still bored. I find the majority of my classes are memorize and regurgitate, or do a presentation, which is basically just a fancy way professors make shy people have panic attacks and avoid teaching. One or two panic attacks later, it is manageable, and I no longer switch out of classes when I see the syllabus says presentation. Win!

Back to statistics — there was a 50/50 chance I’d fail this class. I’d never seen such odds before. I contemplated switching programs, faking my own death or going into hiding in Russia, all which seemed easier than this t-test, chi square hell three times a week. Running away was my game plan until my inner voice spoke:

“No. Holly, you hate running. You won’t even run for the bus when it’s the last one for an hour. Why would you run now?”

Touché, inner voice, touché.

New game plan: I was going to — wait for it — study! I know, I know. A revolutionary idea. Pure genius. Schrödinger’s cat, Pavlov’s dog level genius.

And so I studied. I slaved through every tear-inducing, hair-pulling assignment. When I say slaved, I mean SLAVED. It takes me 2 whole days to answer one question properly to this date. At one point, I was feeling pretty good. I’d been keeping up with the work, I vaguely understood most of it, and the final exam was the next day.

I walked out of the exam like I was royalty — head held high, gracious smiles and delicate waves to the imaginary, cheering public. I called both of my parents and my brother (who didn’t pick up, as usual) and I basically skipped home.

Days pass, grades start rolling in, and I’m checking online every day out of anticipation.

Quantitative Research in Criminology (Statistics) …. D+.

I freeze. Then I laugh.

I worked my ass off for a D+ that destroyed my GPA, stole my remaining scholarships and basically sealed my fate that I wouldn’t be attending law school like my parent’s (still) hope.

And I laughed.

Failure, or near failure, had finally come to greet me, and I embraced it with open arms.

After all this mediocrity, I’ve taken a blow, and guess what?

I’m still on my feet.

Good luck trying to stop me now.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Second part to this series can be found right here:

I apologize for my terrible sense of humour and promise to do better if you follow me here, here, here and/or here.