I just turned in the grades for the last of my classes I TA for and every semester it surprises me the number of students who simply don’t care about getting good grades. I have always been a good student. Wait, let me correct that, I have always been an obsessive student. My first semester at UNO, I was already getting an A in my survey of criminal justice class and I almost did a 25 point extra credit assignment because I was afraid that I might bomb the last test. Thankfully, my now husband convinced me that this much obsession was unnecessary. Since then he has continued his habit of curtailing my more ridiculous concerns about school.
Despite the anxiety created by such an obsessive view of schooling, it got results. I had a solid 4.0 my first year of school. I always showed up to class on time. I turned in all my assignments. I put so much energy into getting good grades it was exhausting at times. But then came that dreaded Spanish class. The other day I was talking with my Grandmother about learning languages and how much difficulty she had when she was a missionary. Apparently, I inherited her language skills because that class kicked my butt and I only just managed to pull out a B after a significant struggle.
For me, that B was like a black blot on my transcript, destroying my pristine record. I hated it. But at the same time, it was also freeing. I didn’t have to worry any more about breaking my streak of straight As because it was already broken. Some of the pressure was off and that was nice. Despite this new found freedom, I was not quite free from the my addiction to good grades and I still wanted to get as high a GPA as I could. But my GPA was destined to take a few more dings before I graduated.
I have been trying to figure out why grades matter so much that the thought of not getting an A can literally give me a panic attack. I think my perfectionism combined with my competitiveness means I always want to be the best and I don’t want others to do better than me. But I also think it has a lot to do with where I put my self worth. Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of smart people and it always felt like everyone from my brother to my friends were smarter than me. I compared myself to them and if I wasn’t as good as they were I would think I was less than them. I valued intelligence and I didn’t feel like I had much because I was comparing myself to some pretty brilliant people and underestimating my own abilities.
In recent years I have learned to let go of my grade obsession to some extent. Intellectually, I know that my worth is not defined by my grades and I can’t compare myself to other people. Although, intellectually knowing and actually internalizing it are two different things and I don’t always do a good job of doing the latter. The change in my mental health has also prevented me from always dedicated as much time as I would like to school which has forced me to let go of the desire to get perfect grades.
I have also had to learn that, in the end, the grades you get don’t matter that much. As long as you are passing your classes and doing well enough to do what you want in life, your GPA doesn’t really matter. The couple of Cs I received, despite my best efforts, did not prevent me from getting in to graduate school and the B+ I received in graduate school will not prevent me from graduating or getting a job. In the end, my desire for good grades was about my pride (even now I don’t like sharing that my grades aren’t perfect), but that is a pride I have to let go of if I want to develop a healthy mental state.
No, I don’t need to keep worry about getting a 4.0 and I have to keep remembering that killing myself to get it will not make my life any better. Some days I do better than others, but I think I am making progress.