Learning in Spite of School: Building Blocks of Faith
January 28, 2020
It has been two months since I last shared some oh-so-deep, enlightening lesson that the world decided to grace me with. The truth is, sometimes it does not seem like life is teaching me anything at all.
Sometimes, I feel as though no matter my best efforts, no matter how thinly I spread myself, no matter how many nights I go sleepless in the name of homework or writing (in fact, I am doing so as I write this), it will never be enough. Sometimes, I feel as though despite pouring all of myself into everything I do, I will never be enough.
The dreaded college-question appears to shadow my every move, always lurking at the corner of the nearest adults’ lips. Of course I would love to go to Stanford, Columbia, or Northwestern. Of course I want to learn surrounded by people who care just as much as I do, but how could I possibly hold any confidence, any faith behind whatever answer I might muster?
Then, there is the possibly-even-more-panic-inducing question of the Governor’s Honors Program, better known as GHP. If I am accepted, I will have the opportunity to study at a college for a month over summer surrounded by the brightest minds that Georgia has to offer. The problem is, that ‘if’ feels insurmountable.
To witness this dream materialize, I must first out-perform thousands of other applicants from across the state. That means hundreds of valedictorians, which I am not, hundreds of perfect SAT or ACT scores, which I do not have, and hundreds of students that are, simply put, better.
Already, I had relished in small victories: I had made it through teacher nominations, my school application, my district application, and my district interview. The thing is, each one of those achievements had been expected. My family, my teachers, my peers, they all had assumed that I would make it that far. Sure, that put pressure on me, but their belief in me supported me more than their actual words or even the accomplishments themselves could.
The moment they began to question whether or not I would actually be able to continue the application process, I felt every bit of faith within me escape like the air from my lungs with a blow to the gut. Every intentionally reassuring, “If you don’t make it, it’s not the end of the world!” or, “No matter what, you should be proud!” tortured me, scarring my mind and leaving behind nothing short of a stab-wound to my ego.
Regardless of my fear, with no other choice, I wrote (or, more accurately, I typed). A lot. As a hopeful-communicative arts major, where some majors had to submit videos, the GHP gods tasked me with essays.
Every word that flowed from my mind existed in a state of uncertainty. I had no confidence in anything that I wrote, despite how many people I forced to edit my work (I owe them a humongous thank you, seriously).
Throughout my state application, I wrote countless paragraphs that would never see the light of day before I haphazardly deleted them. I strung together sentences, rearranged them, then did so again until I became entangled within chains of my own words, my own half-formed thoughts, my own scattered ideas.
The only valid work I seemed to create came at night when I could abandon the waking world along with any restrictions it (or I) had wordlessly placed upon me. Of course, it was not perfect. My work had to be revised, re-revised, then revised again. Perfection remained out of reach and with it, as did any faith in myself.
Inevitably, submission-day still came, as though life seemed to ignore all the pleading to my pillow (surprising, right?). As I began to go through my application, my heart dropped. In fact, it plummeted, skipping my stomach and crashing through the floor. I had missed an essay. Somehow, in my anxious attack of the others, I had not seen an entire essay that I had to have written in just a few hours.
I did it. I wrote it in time. With every word, my heart seemed to beat, “Not-good-enough. Not-going-to-be-enough.” I had no time for all the eyes that had stripped my other works to their core to even begin to chip at this rushed piece. Regardless, I did it. The only thing left for that portion of the application process was to wait, or so I thought.
In reality, there was plenty left to do. I still had to worry, stress, have nightmares about, and attempt to ignore the entire situation.
Many of my classmates asked me why I cared so much, why I felt as though it mattered so much. My parents and teachers reminded me that a single application could not determine my self worth and, on the surface, I knew that they were right. But, whether I would admit it or not, I did not believe them.
It was not only about GHP. I felt like, if I could not even make it past a state application, there is no way I could get into a college that I aspire to go to. I felt like the future that I hope for is only attainable if I could manage to prove enough of my worth through an application. I felt like if I could not do this, then I could never be enough.
With every day, I began to doubt myself more. I repeatedly read each essay I had submitted and began to hate each one more with every glance. Weeks and plenty-of-self-loathing later, the GHP gods declared the results ready to come. Of course, I had to wait until five.
At 4:59 p.m., I sat in my browser, refreshing the screen so often that I know I gave our school WiFi a run for its money. Five came without results. I called my teacher and she calmed me down. 5:01 p.m.: no results. I called my teacher all over again.
More time passed and every refresh brought the same exact screen. So, logically, I began to jump up and down. Sure, I may have gotten a strange look here and there but at least I was not yelling at my phone (which, as far as I could tell, was the only other reasonable alternative).
At 5:29 p.m., I refreshed my screen and a highlighted green, “Congratulations!” appeared. I dropped my phone and continued to jump, only at that point, I did yell a bit (although some may describe it as more of a squeal).
I made it past the state application, where three thousand students had applied, and on to state interviews. I am not done. I have plenty more worrying, stressing and ignoring to do when interviews roll around, but, just for a moment, I am enough.
The truth is, sometimes, life makes it difficult to recognize the lesson that it is throwing right at me. Sometimes, my best efforts, my unseemly ability to spread myself as thin as paper, and my sleepless nights devoted to writing are enough. Sometimes, when I pour all of myself into everything I do, I am enough.