When I was a young child, I knew that I wanted to go to Harvard. To study what, I don’t know. I barely knew what Harvard was, other than that it was prestigious and arguably the best university in the United States. I dreamed of it constantly, thinking constantly of my own successes in the future. When I visited my grandparents’ house in Princeton, I decided I wanted to go there instead. My mom indulged my excitement about my future academic plans and told me that I was an incredibly smart child, and that I could definitely get into Princeton. My childhood was defined by my consistent dream of attending an Ivy League, irrational compared to the ideas of my peers.
When I was preparing to attend public school for the first time, I sternly promised myself that I would not make a single friend while I was there. Although it sounds strange, I was positive that I didn’t want to have anyone distracting me from my goal of getting perfect grades. I was terrified of falling into the pitfall of social life, worried that I would eventually put friends over school and fail miserably. Princeton was the shining city on the hill, the prestigious award for the meager troubles not having any friends would bring. Over Thanksgiving dinner the year before I planned to attend public school, a cousin complained about a D she had received on a biology test only a few days previously. Being a snide little seventh grader, I thought in my head, “That will never happen to me. I’ll get As, and only As.” I had no idea how misinformed I was. When I got my first F on a quiz during my first quarter of eighth grade, I cried.
I had no idea that my lack of knowledge about studying and the snobbish belief that I was somehow ‘above’ studying because I thought I was smart would hurt me. I had no idea that my previously buried low grade anxiety and depression would keep me from working and turning in assignments. Child psychologists have studied the effects of how children being labeled as ‘gifted’ ‘talented’, and ‘smart’ grow and learn compared to children praised for hard work instead of supposed brainpower. The children given the labels of smart or gifted suffered later in their lives, as being repeatedly told these positive affirmations about talent gave them false ideas about themselves, and it was difficult to adjust to being an average teen/adult. Children who were told they were hardworking, on the other hand, tended to do better, in terms of academics and mental health. They didn’t believe they were too good for studying, and they used the positive language of being hardworking, an attainable trait (unlike brain smarts) to bring that to reality.
In a way, this is a story about growth. Failing as an early teenager taught me that success didn’t just mean straight As in high school and an Ivy League acceptance. Additionally, one of my relatives ended up attending Princeton - and disliked it. The people were often unfriendly and highly competitive, more interested in their individual successes than a feeling of community around the school. Learning about how my cousin (not the same cousin as mentioned earlier) had felt about the school helped me peel off the shiny veneer that made me believe that an Ivy League was absolutely perfect and the ticket to a great college experience. As I grew and changed and failed multiple times over the course of three years, I learned more about who I am as a person and what I actually want in my life.