Photo by Ian Watson
I made the terrible mistake of closely tying school to my identity during my adolescence and now I can’t escape it. I don’t think I can clearly pinpoint the exact time where this happened, but it definitely began very early, probably at the beginning of elementary school. Straight A’s were celebrated by all teachers and parents, and there was a special “Straight A’s Recognition Assembly” where every class walked single-file down to the multipurpose room where all of the “smart” kids received certificates and a photo with their mom or teacher and all of the other kids had to watch. Obviously smart is in quotation marks because grades are never an accurate depiction of intelligence, especially at the young ages of 5-11; however, grades were the sole measure anyone cared about for kids. By the time I was 8 years old I already had the expectation and burden to have perfect grades – now don’t get me wrong, my parents wouldn’t have gotten mad at me if I came home with a “B”, and I wouldn’t get in trouble, but I was Ian, and Ian got straight A’s.
As middle school rolled around, less and less of my friends cared about the prestige of straight A’s, and the ones who did had to because of pressure from their parents. My childhood dream of being an NBA star had died when I didn’t make the middle school basketball team and didn’t grow past 4’11 until I was 14 years old, so, as you can imagine, school became then more than ever before the central part of my identity. For a while, I liked it because it gave me some form of validation that the imposter syndrome that I often faced while talking to actual smart people was nothing more than insecurity. I joined a math club, junior varsity quiz, tutored, and did everything that I could possibly do to be “smart.”
Middle school ended and high school began and the resentment set in. I was tired of school – burnt out completely by the age of 15. I went to a high school with next to nobody from my middle school and started to attempt to change my image. I wanted to be “cool” instead of “smart.” That rebranding was ultimately ineffective and I decided to revert to old habits and take Honors, AP, and college courses and I was absolutely exhausted. School was fun because of my friends but I was so insanely stressed all of the time. I wanted out so badly. On top of all of the personal things that a 17 year old has to deal with, high school really forces you to put up with so much bullshit from teachers, administration, and the school system itself that it seems so pointless at times. But I was Ian, and Ian got straight A’s, so I put up with it to my own detriment. I missed out on so many things and had so much effort exerted just to maintain a label that at that point I didn’t even want anymore. I graduated, if you can ever call it much of a graduation, for my elementary school “Straight A’s Recognition Ceremonies” were closer to a graduation than what I experienced for high school, and went to college.
Here is where I am today – a sophomore at college. I only applied to one singular college after all of those 12 years of effort because I had absolutely no drive for academia any longer. My entire freshman year was online which only made my motivation drop lower and lower. I am on my fourth major in a year and a half and every day is a battle not to drop out. I have no idea what I am going to do with my life. I already work constantly and am not making enough money to move out without blowing through my savings. I am stuck. That is what a new school year means to me, I am stuck with no control over my own life. I don’t know what I want to do with my life and the only reason why I haven’t fulfilled my current dream of dropping out of school is because the intense existential dread that my life is purposeless and going nowhere would be amplified if I was no longer in school because who is Ian without school?