Have you ever had a little voice in your head, telling you how terrible and insignificant you are? Just how little your life means because of that test you failed or because of that friend you fought with or because of that parent who won’t speak to you? Has it ever told you that you’re simply not good enough and that perhaps you should just drop out of school to save yourself time and energy? If your answers to these questions were yes, yes, and yes, I can tell you that you belong to a majority of the human population. There is no groundbreaking study or statistic that I can give you because nobody wants to admit it; but I can guarantee that every single person that surrounds you has struggled with that little demon voice.
My mom would always tell me that it’s easy to turn it off and to shut it up. I wish I could tell you the same; that there’s a service, free of charge, that will remove any and all thoughts of self-shaming from your daily life. Sadly, it’s just not that simple.
Society stresses that we need to be A+ students to go anywhere in life. Korean international schools foster a culture of competition and rigor that results in students showing up to school with 30 minutes of sleep, running on adrenaline and caffeine. External pressures force their way into our minds and consume us at every waking moment. Without the grades in high school, we don’t get into an Ivy League school, which means we can’t get a high paying job, leading to a life of utter mediocrity and self-loathing. This is what we are fed in the vigorous tiger-mom culture that is persisting in Korea.
Students also feed into this competition by sharing who got the highest and lowest grades on the last pre-calculus test or AP chemistry quiz. On a daily basis I am bombarded with the question, “What did you get?” This phrase has become second-nature to many, quickly establishing who is superior in the conversation. One-by-one, my peers will go around in a circle exclaiming their victories and triumphs in the form of a shining 96% on the AP lang essay. I look down at my desk in silence and continue to passively listen to the exchange, but don’t mutter a single thing in the presence of truly great students. It’s in those moments that I find the most shame and think that I have to get 100% on every single test, quiz, and essay, that I have to be the number one volleyball player on the team, that I have to be the best musician in our jazz band of 9 students.
At Korean international schools, we are judged based on our abilities and specialties, but when everyone else seems to be doing better, it’s hard to discern your own. What’s not often thought of is that no matter how many things you seem to fail in, everybody has their own special gifts that they were born with. Whether it’s being ambidextrous, being able to whistle really well, folding origami with great precision, or even just wearing cool clothes, remembering the unique aspects of you can help to defeat the thought that you are not special. And even if you don’t become a brain surgeon or a judge on the supreme court, that doesn’t define your worth nor your success. Adhering to the expectations of society does not mean that you have made it in this world.
Most importantly, nobody’s perfect (to quote Hannah Montana). We aren’t robots, so we shouldn’t expect ourselves to react like them. Realizing that our imperfections and little idiosyncrasies make us human is a step to defeating that annoying voice.