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A B-grader's guide to self-acceptance

August 31, 2012


-Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed.

I’d dare not belittle the perseverance of our academic over-achievers. They’ve earned their every bit of the glory they receive. But this is about the brilliant individuals whose skills cannot be accurately assessed by the limited classes that our schools offer.

By the age of 15, I had placed the final full-stop on a 160,000-word story. It wasn’t a Pulitzer-worthy novel, nor was it the Principia Mathematica of our generation, but it still meant something. A boy who couldn’t spend 20 minutes studying mathematics without smashing the calculator with his bare fist, had been spending hours and hours typing away his magnum opus on his new computer.

This manuscript was read by a grand total of four eyes, two of them being my own. The others belonged to a school friend, who gave me a thumbs up. I needed more than that. What I needed was for my parents to take a hint. Because even though I recognised this as an accomplishment of some sort, I could not comprehend what it truly signified. That writing for me was not a mere hobby, but a calling.

But at that time, my entire life was centered on O’levels. My statement of results announcing B’s in both Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat, came to my home like pox on paper. They’d been perfectly clear from the beginning: you can’t get into a decent university without enough A’s, and you can’t be a successful person in life without graduating from a decent university. I could only imagine the disappointment of those who had attained C’s and D’s, and how bad they’d been made to feel.

I ended up loathing myself for wasting my time writing my book. I should’ve been doing something more worthwhile, like memorising Jinnah’s 14 points, or learning about the round table conferences. Eventually, a computer virus caused those 30 chapters I had written to be washed out of existence. The hard-copy I had printed out was lost several years later when we moved to a new house.

As we go about each day confirming stereotypes about Asian parents being overly obsessed with school grades, we generate a hostile environment for those whose achievements are not strictly academic in nature.

What drives hard work in any subject or field is simply interest and motivation. And note that lambasting one’s son or daughter for getting poor grades does not count as “motivation”. Those who are genuinely fascinated by a subject spend long hours studying it. Others drag themselves through twice as much misery and mental anguish to study only half as much.

Society anticipates all kids to be intrigued by the same limited number of courses offered to them by their education system, an expectation that is utterly unnatural. A child’s lack of interest in English or Pakistan Studies is misconstrued as laziness or sheer stupidity.

A poor teacher would nonsensically command his students to “develop interest” in his studies, failing to realise that this interest is not something one develops at will. Wouldn’t life be fabulously simple if we were all able to actively choose what we like or dislike? It’s a teacher’s job to make that subject more appealing for the students. If that fails, well, you can force a person to perform a certain task, but you cannot force him to enjoy it.

And, to quote a bumper sticker, the true key to success is enjoying the work that you do. You cannot master a trade that you yourself despise. There are people who have earned more fame and fortune playing or developing video games, than most doctors and engineers could ever hope to achieve in one lifetime.

The next time you’re in your own room; don’t just fixate on the pile of dirty clothes on the floor that your mother would be so mad to see. Take note of the shelf that’s overflowing with books, as well as their titles. Take note of a wealth of exercise or sports equipment, the artwork you may have created, the posters of your heroes, or that massive collection of CD’s and other electronic devices.

Take note of every skill and accomplishment that did not necessarily come from a school textbook, and therein, find out who you are or what you’re aspiring to be.


The author is a doctor from Rawalpindi who writes mostly about science and prevalent social issues. He tweets @FarazTalat.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.