Why we keep waiting for an A in life

Have you ever been told by your parents that you had to do well in school? I have. My family has always valued high grades. That is not to say I was good at getting them. In fact, I distinctly remember my very first history test in the first year of high school. It was on the subject of prehistory and I was the worst in my class, earning myself the equivalent of a C. But when I reread my answers, I noticed most of them were not wrong exactly – just not extensive enough. As I tried to improve my grades, I learned how to answer exam questions in a way that matched with my teachers’ wishes. Before the year was over I was at the top of my class in history, getting better grades with every new exam.

Learning to please

This is what the classic school system does best: it trains us to meet others’ expectations. Teachers have the power to reward kids who fulfill their requirements, essentially telling us whether we are successful. It’s not just exam answers, too: discipline and even simple teacher-student interaction all influence our grades. And these grades determine whether we are “good students” or “bad students”. Which is more impactful than you might think: since for many teenagers the concept ‘student’ is part of their identity, their grades essentially influence whether they perceive themselves as “good” or “bad”.
You won’t be surprised that people who value being perceived as good, try harder to obtain good grades. Mind you, I’m not talking about them becoming experts in fields of their interest, or them thinking outside of the box. What I’m saying is that these students, and there are a great many of them (or should I say ‘us’?), learn how to adapt to match what their teachers’ expect.

Life after school

Then, we get our degrees and head out into the real world. And that’s where the problems start… So many of us get good jobs, stable relationships and nice families, only to secretly wonder over and over again: “why am I unhappy?”
So why are so many of us unhappy, despite our seemingly perfect lifes? I believe we are unhappy, because we live in a constant fight to get an “A”. The only problem: once we’re out of the classroom, we become the only ones who can award ourselves that top grade. But in our quest for approval from the world, we forget to look at our own priorities and ask ourselves: “what criteria are important to me?”.
Good students have a hard time at finding happiness. We keep waiting for someone on the outside to tell us that we’re doing well. But as we do, we forget to gain approval from the people that matter most: ourselves. It’s only by escaping the notion we have to please the imaginary teacher and setting your own standards that we reclaim control and rediscover our paths. The good news? Once we do that, we can finally ace life.
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1 thought on “Why we keep waiting for an A in life

  1. Currently in college for the third, maybe forth time? I find myself losing interest for the very reasons you bring up. It’s the proverbial rat race, opinion based smoke up skirt mentalities that really suck the fun out of learning in that environment. I don’t likely care about the professor’s opinions on the subject matter, I tend to care about the subject matter itself. It is the chaff mixed in so subtly with the wheat that it makes it hard to digest. At times feeling more like a method of conformity brainwash than actual lessons having to do with the topic. Not to say it happens all the time, but just enough for it to be draining interest wise; having teachers grade you on what an opinion is other than the rationality behind it. When it doesn’t mirror their interpretations down to the T you are marked down ridiculous amounts, even after a well thought out explanation with facts. Actually having situations where people were writing less formulated ideas in a shorter anecdotal format receiving higher grades because they parroted the narrative of the professor.
    I don’t want to sound like I’m whining by any means, really I feel like this time will have to be the last time– I’ll have to stick with it no matter what. It’s just…difficult. At times it makes me physically ill to force myself to do it in a way that I must bend to otherwise I’ll be graded harshly; when, just like everyone else, I do want the best grade possible (what’s the point of being there if I’m not receiving the best grades?). Any insight from someone on the other side with a similar mindset is appreciated.
    Although, I should have probably prefaced with the fact that I have no idea what I want to do. I’ve never particularly been good with commitment, and in knowing that about myself I can’t think of anything I like enough to actually spend money to get a degree in. I’m going now in hopes to find something along the way, but I’m apathetic– at best– for most things. I tend to like world news, science, and politics, but the commitment of doing that for the rest of my life? I’m not so sure about that.
    Regardless of how this is received or if at all; thanks for taking the time to make this site. It has been insightful, and comforting to read some of the passages you’ve written about.

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