I grew up grade conscious. It was neither my parents’ fault nor my teachers’. It was all by my doing; my consciousness was constantly rambling that I had to be number one every single time. At first, it did not sound like such a bad thing. However, my drive for success came to a point where it swallowed me whole, controlling me to be the top student I set myself out to be. I grew an obsession of earning perfect scores in every subject and would beat myself up if I received any mark less than perfection.
It all started in the first grade when I had a science test about clouds. I did not study for it, simply because I did not want to. The concept of devoting time to read and review was still foreign to me at that time, as I would rather play with my Barbie dolls. Those playtimes, however, would earn me a 3/10 mark. A failing mark. That was when I realized I had to do something about it. I was ashamed and disgusted with that red-inked number 3. I was always praised for having the potential of being a top student, so receiving such a score devastated me.
Given my grade, I realized the emphasis placed on studying and the greatness that would follow: consistent 100% marks. I would have this little smile on my face after every exam, already knowing I received the highest mark. Everyone began flocking to me for help as I answered each question on any subject. The ground beneath me elevated as I strode towards first place. I was the rising champion of this competition, but it soon became an unhealthy habit to seek to be the first at everything constantly. I was only in the first grade.
Entering high school, I felt as if everyone became my competitor. I had no problem when it came to anything within the classroom, but extracurriculars were something I had failed to focus on. The idea of exposing my abilities to others outside of school was taunting my self-esteem. Although it could have been an approach towards gaining confidence, my grade obsession told me otherwise. Designating time for “extra” activities meant waiving away the consistent edge I had in academics. I would rather spend hours enclosed by four walls, reading a textbook non-stop, and researching for further information rather than be on stage with an audience in front of me, listening to every word that could make or break the results. I had closed so many doors of opportunities, always keeping close to my comfort circle. I could have been a part of experiences that would have helped prepare me for the real world, but all of these were wasted because I was engulfed by my grade obsession.
One day, I broke down, tears streaming down my cheeks. I cried because I did not know if I could maintain that constant image of being the top student at school. I always expected myself to get perfect marks, and whenever I did not, I perceived that everyone else would make a fuss about it. I cried because I could not get out of my comfort zone. I preferred to stay within my forte, despite it being just one factor that would benefit me in the real world. I cried because I could not balance being a student, a daughter, and a sister at the same time. I always stayed in my bedroom, rushing back upstairs after meals to finish a school requirement that was due a week later. I apologized for disappointing people, for not having the courage to expose my capabilities, for being mindlessly grade obsessed.
As I look back at myself years ago and see the blooming flowers and shattered mirrors, I realize that the significant experience that has helped define me as a person was what my parents had said to me afterward. “Anak, okay lang yan. Everything you’ve done up until today, you’ve always made us proud. Do what makes you happy and do it for yourself.” Failure was my biggest enemy back then. It degraded me, made me feel vulnerable and crushed. It is difficult to acknowledge such defeat, especially when you have constantly built a wall of success. There were countless nights of reading page after page, writing note after note, just to earn the recognition and applause I always yearned for. But hearing these words from my parents, the two people who have always been my biggest supporters, made me feel empowered to defeat the constant fear of failure that has haunted me. It gave me a sense of affirmation that failure is okay and made me realize that a pat on the back will always be given, whether to commend success or soothe away failure.
Since then, I have been doing things at my own pace. I did not lock myself in a room the time I got a failing mark in my math exam. I proudly applauded when my friend cruised to the top spot as I sat in the backseat. I embraced an opportunity to join a club where I could freely express myself. The sense of euphoria I have felt after becoming my own person—no longer controlled by the demands of being top one, made me feel even more accomplished than all of the perfect marks I have received combined. The epiphany gave me proof that an obsession of mine that had taken over my entire life can vanish as long as I acknowledge its existence. It took a lot of courage and willpower to withstand the roadblocks, but in the end, it took me to a destination of healing. And now, I want to be who I am meant to be. I do not need always to be the top one, nor do I even desire to be the best at every single thing in life. I want to be my mother’s joy and my father’s warmth. I want to be my siblings’ comfort and friends’ laughter. I want to be someone’s courage, and most importantly, I want to be my own definition of success. To seek happiness throughout all the blood, sweat, and tears that I have poured out is what I aim to achieve. And if failure is what it takes to get there, then I will gladly put on my brave face and combat my mortal enemy.