So today I had an exam, and if there’s one that you need to know about me is that I suck at exams. My memory is quite literally that of a goldfish, even something that I wholeheartedly adore learning and can’t get enough of, if you ask me to recount details it’s like those eraser boards where someone wipes it clear just in time for you trying to hunt out an answer. Thankfully, the exam was only multiple choice in comparison to essay format but still, words dress up in disguise and everything turns into the BBC Test card in my head with some inane tune bouncing around. I am, and have always been a researcher and a writer. I’m not afraid to toot my own horn and say that’s where my ego lies. Exams and being on the spot. The word, my friend, is no.
I’m also someone prone to beating myself up if I don’t get what I want and tend to set expectations of myself ridiculously high. I did well in the exam, I passed and I think maybe bordering on a merit but as soon as I see others have got 90% and one even 100% then the worry starts to unnerve me. The voices start to kick in and the mist of self doubt begins to creep over my consciousness. The usual merry go round of cackling Disney witches screeching about being a failure, giving up, why even bother blah de blah de blah. It’s been twenty six, nearly twenty seven years and I still don’t know any better.
Cut to later the same evening. I actually started writing this as I was sat on the floor (yes) in a corridor (yes) waiting to meet with my Dissertation Supervisor, the one area of my course that I have everything pinned on nailing with flying colours. And the whole uneasiness of expectation and pitting myself against others threw me for six. Am I really going to nail this as much as I think I am? What if someone does better than me? Am I never going to be the person who comes first for once? In the whole meeting these inane questions rattled round as I tried to focus on Ethics and Methodology and Hypothesis. I felt words dripping out of my mouth with no real meaning, a rushed rambled thought fart trying to sound all Stephen Fry with long syllable filled words, yet I couldn’t even remember the word for prompt. I nearly forgot it just then. Staring at my eloquent, ridiculously clever and intelligent Supervisor gurgling as if I’d retired back to my infant years. All in all, I felt like a twat.
Driving home I made myself feel better by piling in M&S chocolate pretzels (could live off these) trying to give myself a mental cuddle and pat on the back. I guess what I have learned in these years is how much better I am at giving myself a break when I don’t succeed in the way I would want to or when for the billionth time in my life a group of smarter, fitter, prettier people rush past me and break the ribbon as I puff and pant in on hands and knees. Instead of lying starfish on my back crying pathetically, I pull myself up, stick two fingers up and walk in the opposite direction to find something else that I can be better at, or to find ways in which to beat who I was before.
Because isn’t that it all comes down to? Yes, competition is fierce. You finish a degree, get the hat ripped off your head and kicked out with them bellowing that you’re fighting two hundred other graduates for the same job. How many hours did you study? What exam results did you get? You only got a 2:2?! You might as well go and give your certificate back for what it’s worth! And people, I hesitate to say children but I view them as that at the tender age of twenty-one, are dealing with this whilst trying to figure out council tax, budget planning and how we can sponge a Netflix account out for fifteen users…
Well you know what I’m tired of standing like a line up in a police station judging myself in the reflection because I don’t level out at the people stood at either shoulder. The only person I want to be better than is myself. It’s not about giving up on trying, it’s about giving up on pretending to be everything we think we should be. It’s the A word. Acceptance. In truth, the only competition we should have is ourselves. The only way we can succeed is by smirking at our yesterday and setting off running a few seconds ahead knowing the route to the finish line this time. So yeah, so what if I didn’t get the test 100% or even 80% or even 65%. I passed. I know I can do better. I know I can try harder.
It doesn’t matter anything where you come in class, it matters where you come within yourself. Because the only competition is, you guessed it, YOU!