Live Through This

In Defense of Quitting

I can’t believe Rookie published this! They’re encouraging people not to do well in school!

Collage by Emma D.

Growing up, I was always the “smart girl.” This label was so much a part of me that once someone I only knew through an out-of-school theater group called me that, despite the fact that I had only ever talked to him about our production. You could tell just by looking at me that I was someone who knew her way around a Scantron sheet.

Being smart was my identity, and it was a heavy burden. I internalized every word adults told me about my future: good grades + hard work = good college = fame + fortune. And I thrived on getting those A’s. They meant I was doing everything right, and that no matter how hard things were now they would get better, because people with high grade-point averages go places.

I was way stressed out, and I knew it. But it didn’t matter, because those A’s were still coming in. I remember reading an article in Girls’ Life magazine by a girl who was even more overachieving than me: she was taking something like four AP classes and had to stay up all night to finish her homework. Of course, she got completely burned out. Long story short, she dropped two classes and lived a happier, more balanced life.

I read this great, inspirational article and thought, “I can’t believe Girl’s Life published this! They’re encouraging people not to do well in school! That girl was amazing, and now she’s a quitter.”

Yeah, I was insane, and full of myself. But I was also really proud of my hard work, and I felt kind of insulted that a fellow smart girl was “leaving the lifestyle.” When so many people your own age dismiss you as a nerd you kind of have to adopt a feeling of superiority to survive: “Whatever. Someday, I’ll be their boss.” We knew what was important, even if they didn’t.

Which is why it blew my mind that even my fellow nerds sometimes put other priorities ahead of school. I had similar scathing opinions about people who skipped school for their birthdays or “mental health days.” Yet I missed school every Friday for an extracurricular theater program, which was somehow OK in my book because it was school-sanctioned and would look good on a college application. I was a judgmental hypocrite, and the only reason that I had any friends was because I only judged them silently.

Me being a jerk aside, this would all have been all right if it hadn’t had such a huge impact on the rest of my life. My stomach was always in knots, worrying about the next paper or test. Math was the worst, because it was the one subject I didn’t excel at. I wasn’t bad at it, even though I thought I was. I was just average. I got Bs and Cs and struggled hard just for those. It was traumatizing—in fifth grade my mom and I would work on multiplication tables and it would always end with me crying because I just didn’t get it. In high school, I didn’t cry anymore, but I did panic and try to drop pre-calculus. (My guidance counselor talked me out of it. I think I ended up with a C.) Math “ruined” my GPA and nearly ruined my sense of self-worth. If I wasn’t smart, then what was I?

I didn’t figure out the truth until well into college: no matter how hard I worked, it would NEVER END. Now I was in the university honors program, and I had to keep a high GPA if I wanted an honors diploma and a good application for grad school.

Say I went on to grad school. Then what? Was I going to have excel there too, and then get a Ph.D.? What else is an exceptional student going to do? I’d have to keep going, keep proving that I was worth being called “smart,” and eventually I was going to have to get a good career and excel at that until the day I retired/died. Anything else would be a waste of my talent.

I had to work even harder to keep those good grades in college, and the stress was catching up to me. I had migraines for weeks at a time. My jaw and neck clenched up so hard that I couldn’t eat or sleep due to the pain. For the first time, I was no longer consumed by the thought of being the best. Now that I was being held back by physical pain, my goal was to be “good enough” despite the headaches. Fortuitously, my self-destructive cycle of anxiety and perfectionism actually broke itself by making me sick, and I will always have to be grateful for that. Because “good enough” was still pretty darn good. I started getting treatment for the anxiety and the migraines, and I learned how to pace myself.

I still managed to graduate with that honors diploma, but I made a decision. I was not going to go to grad school or law school or a career as an investment banker (ESPECIALLY not that—ugh, math). I could always go back and do those things later. For now, I wanted to do something interesting and meaningful and FUN. And that’s how I ended up working for an environmental charity in Washington, D.C., and writing for Rookie. Not bad for a quitter!

I’m glad I eventually learned my lesson, but it took so long, and caused a lot of physical pain to boot. Here’s what I wish I’d taken away from that article in Girls’ Life back when I was a teenager: Doing well in school is important, but it’s only one aspect of your life, and it is possible to work too hard. If you’re not happy, what good is success? ♦


  • MissKnowItAll January 27th, 2012 7:15 PM

    Whoa, this really hit close to home. In elementary and middle school, I was the smart girl. I aced tests without even trying. I even took high school courses in 8th grade. When it was time for me to apply to high schools, I went all out and applied to specialized schools that boasted award winning math and science programs. When I got into a specialized high school I was fully prepared to continue my smart life style. But I was so wrong. I git excellent grades in art and english, but I could barely pass chemistry. But I was determined to take the AP course and I burned myself out working my ass off in chem. I only later realized that doing something that stressed me out took time away from doing things I loved like painting and drawing. It’s great to want to be an over achiever but you have to realize when to put yourself first. Thanks rookie!

  • SuzieQ January 27th, 2012 7:21 PM

    I can totally relate to this. I’m in my senior year and when we got our ranks I almost had a breakdown; my friend who was only in honors got higher than me, the person who took six AP’s the first three years of h.s. and is currently taking four. The reason that I ranked lower was because last year I took on far more than I could handle which led to an increase in anxiety and my body decided to attack me. I clenched, grinded my teeth, had insomnia, and I started to succumb to my OCD and trich urges. That just caused me to do worse in school which really bothered me because I’m the shy smart girl who is easily forgotten, so if I’m no longer “smart” I just lost my only memorable characteristic. I realize now if I just gave up a few classes that brought me no benefits, not only could my GPA have been higher but I wouldn’t have had to go through a torturous year of pure hell.

  • Maialuna January 27th, 2012 7:24 PM

    Oh goodness. This is me. Except I’ve been waaaay better this year. I mean, yeah… I still don’t sleep as much as I’m supposed to, but I’ve stopped working on everything after it’s done and rejecting other people’s socializing.


  • Tourdivoire January 27th, 2012 7:35 PM

    It’s an interesting article, not something you hear often. I was the “smart girl” too, the only one in my class who graduated from high school summa cum laude, but what kept me from falling into too much work and pressure was that I was very involved in music school and girl scouting all along. It helped me keep it real. And I’m still a musician and a girl scout leader!
    Extracurricular activities are good for you!

  • Stephanie January 27th, 2012 7:45 PM

    I loved this article and totally relate. I was (and still can be) a huge overachiever and even in high school, though I ran with the “bad crowd” and did my fair share of partying, I made sure I kept my grades up. It led to some pretty severe anxiety and panic attacks. Then I ended up going to two different colleges that didn’t care AT ALL about what my grades and test scores were. (I quit the first one even though I never thought I’d be a college dropout, but it was a really good decision because the school was not giving me what I needed.) I still definitely stress too much at times, so thank you for writing this piece because it serves as a good reminder.

  • shaya January 27th, 2012 7:46 PM

    gaaah, story of my life right now. thanks rookie!

  • TessAnnesley January 27th, 2012 7:59 PM

    Thank you Rookie, I really needed to read this right now. It’s two days before school starts again here in Australia (and I’ve spent all summer doing holiday homework) and not last night I got two hours sleep because I was listening to Adele and Bon Iver and crying because I was so stressed. YOU PEOPLE AND YOUR THOUGHT-HIJACKING! :)

  • Veganpop January 27th, 2012 8:24 PM

    This may sound like a dumb question (EVEN THOUGH THERE AREN’T ANY) but I’m considering taking 3 to 4 APs next year, and I’m wondering if that means I’ll be stressed and miserable hate everything and have no life?
    Extra information: I get good/average grades and work really hard.

    • Leanna January 27th, 2012 9:35 PM

      It can be done. I did it. I took AP English, AP Government/Economics, and AP Art my senior year. Yes, there were some late nights. Yes, there were some deadlines I just barely made. I did it without having any major breakdowns, but I also had the support of great friends in my classes who were going through the same thing.

      I think it’s just important to take a step back sometimes and realize that even though grades are important, and it is worthwhile to work hard for them, they are not the only thing in life. If you keep that in mind, you should be fine.

    • Hayley January 28th, 2012 12:25 AM

      I’m a senior & taking 4 APs, and I get good grades, but it’s difficult. A lot of the time I hate school and I’m sick of it.
      That said, I think it depends on your temperament. It helps to be social; it helps to have friends to talk to when it gets hard. And you should probably ask yourself if you’re naturally an optimist. If school hasn’t gotten you down before, and if you can usually see the end of the tunnel, you’re probably okay.
      Also: it helps to realize that sometimes you can’t control everything. When it’s 2AM and your paper is due tomorrow, sometimes you just have to hand in what you’ve got and try harder next time. And even if you don’t do well, you’ll still learn something.
      I’m kind of antisocial and prone to depression, and I think that makes the whole AP lifestyle harder for me. Give it a shot if you feel ready!

    • rhymeswithorange January 29th, 2012 4:12 PM

      I’m a junior and taking the full IB program (yeah I realize not AP but still accelerated). It’s definitely hard (we just finished finals and THANK GOD they’re over!) but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think what you should think about is if YOU want to really take those classes, not just so they look good on your transcript. That’s something I think helps me a lot, I am legitimately interested in all my classes so I’m not stressed out the majority of the time.
      Also, to echo other posters on here extracurriculars are awesome for you to still have a life! I’m required to by IB but it actually is a really good thing. Good luck!

    • Ana January 29th, 2012 11:34 PM

      At my school (public, nothing special) it was kind of the standard to take 5 AP classes (history, language, science, math, english) senior year and pretty much all of my friends from those classes did well (As and Bs). It’s really not as bad as you’re making it seem, I PROMISE :)

  • Gabrielle January 27th, 2012 8:42 PM

    That’s definitley true. My friend’s sister has that article from when she was little

  • Gizmo January 27th, 2012 8:43 PM

    I can relate so much to this. Everyday I stress about whether or not I am smart enough for my degree, and work myself to the bone just for the satisfaction of good grades. And it certainly feels like its never going to end, with all my lecturers harping on us to do honours…then a masters….then a Ph.D, otherwise you will get nowhere. This thinking is not healthy, and I’m glad someone else has gone through this :)

  • bunny2015 January 27th, 2012 8:59 PM

    Thank you so much Rachael! This came just in time, I have to take my 1st SAT test tomorrow and I’m crazy stressed about it, I’m so scared if I do bad that I wont get into a good college/bad career/bad life. But this article helped me a lot. I reread it 3 times, LUV!

  • jessejames January 27th, 2012 9:10 PM

    AMEN sister. I just finished my college apps and midterms and I am officially done trying for the rest of the year.

  • marit January 27th, 2012 9:14 PM

    how does rookie literally know everything i’m thinking? this month of Up All Night articles has been amazing. this article describes my life, and then i also loved the lizzie mcguire one, and the one about insomnia (well, i think there were a lot of those… i’m thinking of this one) and a bunch of other ones.
    thanks so much!!

  • Kyle January 27th, 2012 9:48 PM

    this is a really good This American Life about quitting from 1995:

  • Lotta January 27th, 2012 9:53 PM

    I guess Tavi really does live under our beds!

  • llamagesicht January 27th, 2012 10:04 PM

    Yessssssssssssss, these words are important. And I used to read Girls’ Life. Ah, those days!

  • augustine_rose January 27th, 2012 10:04 PM

    I was also the smart girl, and I respect a lot of what you have to say, but please don’t discount the value of grad school.

    I worked hard in high school, got into MIT and graduated with a 3.7, and I fully intend on going on to get my MD/PhD.

    Yes, it’s stressful, and yes, it’s hard – but it’s also something I’m deeply passionate about. I’m sorry that being the “smart girl” was a defensive mechanism for you, but it isn’t just a defense for everyone – some girls out there really do enjoy academia and continuing education, stressful or not. I know you didn’t intend this, but the dismissive tone you used regarding graduate school is a little bit of a bummer – obviously it wouldn’t work FOR YOU, but by talking about it so negatively, I worry that you’re giving the impression that girls who want to go to grad school are going to “burn out” because they’re working too hard.

    Pacing and anxiety control are definitely important – but working hard and long hours aren’t necessarily a bad thing. You just need to find balance in your life, and make sure that whatever you’re doing (school-wise or work-wise) is something that you’re passionate about.

  • llamagesicht January 27th, 2012 10:08 PM

    Also, advice for high-school juniors/seniors: Don’t be too quick to deem a school not good enough. There are a lot of awesome (private AND public) schools of all different sizes, and you will find intelligent and inspiring professors at every one of them. Don’t stress it! You can set yourself up to succeed almost anywhere. If you don’t have the college app of your dreams, you can still be happy and successful.

    • megantron January 27th, 2012 10:49 PM

      Perfect advice!! I wish someone had told me this when I was a high school senior (I probably wouldn’t have believed it though). Do the best wherever you end up going, take advantage of every opportunity, and you can be successful and happy anywhere. Never tie your self-worth to a college name –I know I did, and it’s made me a bitter asshole T__T

      • llamagesicht January 28th, 2012 12:51 AM

        I have some friends who had the same difficulty accepting the fact that they didn’t get to attend the college of their dreams. I personally couldn’t go where I wanted because of the costs of higher ed. If you look around, though, you might find good fit / good deal combos. Maybe not the School Of Your Dreams, but you may wind up loving it anyway.

  • Cruicked January 27th, 2012 10:19 PM

    I completely relate to this. I’ve always been told I’m smart and I thought I was until I got to high school. Suddenly, I couldn’t keep up with all my classes, couldn’t balance all of my work with fun and started to care less and less. It’s led me into a downward spiral where now, so close to my exams, I’m trying to work my butt off to not procrastinate and live up to the high expectations of my teachers. My parents haven’t been pushing me hard enough but my teachers keep telling me that I’m not living up to my potential. My teachers and peers are driving me crazy telling me I should be top of the class when I just feel like everyone is so much smarter and a harder worker than I am. I’m so frustrated and under so much pressure but I have to let it not get to me because the last time I let so much pressure and frustration and depression get to me, I ended up almost never in school, with awful migraines that no medicine could help and parents and famiy and friends who were sick of me.

  • puffytoad January 27th, 2012 10:45 PM

    I felt really guilty for not taking AP history in high school. But the history class I ended up taking in college had such a terrible professor (and no textbook) that we all ended up studying wikipedia for our exams. And it worked! I am sure the AP class would have been *much* harder. Lol.

  • megantron January 27th, 2012 10:45 PM

    Oh my gosh, this is like the story of my life. Growing up, I was always the “smart girl” as well. I took a shitload of APs, got mostly got A’s (got a B in Calc, and that was only with the help of my genius freshman sister –math was always my worst subject, although I was pretty good at it up until precalc), did well on the SATs, and got into a top university and turned down full scholarships from schools that I thought I was too good for (wow, I was such a snob!). At my college, I definitely was in a “little fish in a big pond type”-type situation. Everyone at school was now a “smart kid” so that really wrecked with my identity and self-esteem lol.

    I did OK as an undergrad but I was seriously depressed and was always dogged by the feeling that I would have done better and been happier at a less competitive school. The sad thing is that most of the other students also felt the same pressures, which resulted in a very unhappy student body. I got accepted into a good grad program where I got in way over my head, and now, yes, I’m quitting! I took a leave of absence this term and wow, I’ve never been more relieved.

    It’s important to put things in perspective. You want to challenge yourself and you want to do the best that you can, but you shouldn’t kill yourself doing it. Remember that a perfect SAT score or straight A’s or Ivy League credentials are not what’s important in life– make time for your friends and family and pursue your nonacademic interests. It’s also more important to actually LEARN something (rather than memorizing rote facts).

  • oogeyboogy15 January 27th, 2012 10:49 PM

    The first half is the story of my life. The only thing that keeps me from getting major physical stress is that my school doesn’t offer AP classes. At first I was angry, but now I’m kinda glad about that. I don’t know that I could ever give up my brains. Getting A’s is like a high for me.

  • Casey January 27th, 2012 11:31 PM

    I, like many others, can definitely relate to this! I especially feel singled out as the smart girl in my group of friends, because none of them have the ambition to try to excel at EVERYTHING like I do. :/

    Next year I’m a junior, and I’m taking AP US history, English Honors, Mandarin 4 Honors, Pre-Calc, Physics (don’t know if I want to do honors in that), and VERY TENTATIVELY either AP Chemistry or Bio.

    I know for a fact that I’m taking the first four classes I listed (LOVE English and history, and I already took Chinese school for like 8-9 years!), but I’m not the greatest at math and science. But for sure I need to take some kind of Physics.

    Can anyone else predict my death for the next school year? x_X

  • Dylan January 28th, 2012 12:11 AM

    My first semester in college was SO like this – I came from a really rigorous college prep high school that was all about busting your butt, thus I applied to the best regarded design schools (ego problem). Of course I went to the one where people told me I’d be the most successful, because it was the most out of this world challenging. It was so miserable, I transferred out, and now am doing EXACTLY what I want to do with my life, on my own terms, at a school more suited for me. That crazy idea that success accompanies the insanity of stress and anxiety misses the entire point of success at all. Balance allows the space for satisfaction, and satisfaction is what success is all about.

  • Hayley January 28th, 2012 12:14 AM

    I am the girl who works too hard, still. I’m “the smart one” and I sort of like it? Sort of. Lately I’ve been annoyed with the endless drivel and routine of “smart classes” and “AP kids”. I don’t like the other overachiever-types that I know, and I just want to sit around and read books because it feels more important than school.
    But anyway. What I was getting at was: school made me physically sick too. For nearly two straight years I was so worried about school that I actually developed a nasty cough and a constant “cold” that wouldn’t go away. It took forever for the doctors to finally give up (after two X-rays of my chest and a CT scan) and send me to therapy.
    Stress hurts, okay? I’m glad you guys acknowledged it. (Incidentally, I’m not sick anymore, but I can’t let go of my perfectionism. It sucks. So.)

  • ponygrrrl January 28th, 2012 12:18 AM


  • ravenflamingo January 28th, 2012 12:19 AM

    I know everyone in the comments is saying this, but I can totally relate. I have a 4.0 in high school and it is extremely stressful maintaining it. I have cried for hours at a time when I thought I was going to have an A- in a class. One of my friends has a 4.0 as well, but she is even more obsessed and I kind of worry her. Being a perfectionist is tough and sometimes you have to cut yourself some slack. Great article!

  • atticus January 28th, 2012 12:50 AM

    I think I took something out of this article that wasn’t what was originally intended, but was super enlightening. I was able to see myself as kinda a critical, self-righteous witch with a “b”. I kill myself over school and I look down upon those who don’t. But their decisions don’t always reflect their capabilities. If anything, it reveals they are better at time prioritizing then I am.
    Thanks Rachel!

  • Narnie January 28th, 2012 2:06 AM

    Oh gosh. I’m about to start Year 12 (the equivalent of senior year here in Australia) and my stress levels are through the roof, so much so that I’ve been calculating the scores I have to get in certain subjects to achieve a final score that I deem acceptable. Thank you so much for this, a good reminder. But all too often the fear of not being good enough just takes over…argh! Hopefully things will turn out after the hard work and stress of this year.

  • KayKay January 28th, 2012 2:34 AM

    Wow, I really love this article. Not that I get straight As (besides, the IB works differently in grading), but just the pressure set by other people and the pressure set by yourself and the whole “good grades + hard work = good college = fame + fortune”.
    I think everyone get’s a bit burned out at one point or another, but it’s important to keep going on, because a good education is very important, and I value mine.

    • caro nation January 29th, 2012 1:09 PM

      I also have IB grades, and when my school system switched, I had a serious, SERIOUS meltdown because I thought NYU might not except them, and then cried myself to death when my math test came back and I had a 6 out of 8.

  • Narita January 28th, 2012 3:38 AM

    Sounds familiar… until high school I had the grades other kids dreamed of, except for one year when I lived in an abusive foster family (Is that the right English word? Hope so.) where I had to be on my fourth grade homework for five hours a day and where I end up locked somewhere if I didn’t get those A’s- Nevermind. Due the pressure, my grades were horrible, but after I got away from there, it was fine. People expected me to go to VWO, the hardest level of education in the Netherlands. (It’s separated in levels here.) And I end up there. For half a year, at least. It wasn’t too hard, but the kids treated me like shit. Literally. Locked up in the toilets, death treats during art prom and getting beaten up with a teacher in front of me; looking at it. I got a level lower, and pretty.much bored myself to death, but kids still hated me. It’s two years later and I’m fourteen now and I’m in a special school for (high risk) dropouts. In less than 6 months they want to send me back to a regular school and I’m scared. A lot.

    • mangachic January 30th, 2012 7:05 AM

      I’m so so so sorry (probably not helpful) you went through this, the best of luck if you end up going to the regular school. The part about the teacher is horrific, can’t you report him/her???
      Good luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Georgie January 28th, 2012 3:48 AM

    I totally understand this, stupid as that may sound. People use me as the “standard” they should be aiming for, which only makes me push myself harder to reach a new kind of elevated status. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t smart, just so things would be easier. But you’re right: chill, take it easy, I should work because I enjoy a subject not because of other people’s expectations. I want to do something worthwhile, not end up burned out in fifty years wondering why it all came to this! Rookie, I swear you are reading my diary or something: HOW DO YOU KNOW ALL THIS?!

  • Jean January 28th, 2012 4:57 AM

    I’ve always been labeled the smart girl my entire life too! This article is amazing – thank you so much for sharing.

  • Mumu January 28th, 2012 5:02 AM

    This article is what I needed. My first semester of College was wonderful, I was studying stuff I loved, putting in reasonable effort, and to my amazement I got A+ everywhere. From that moment all my time went into how to keep/improve my grades. I would isolate myself from friends, read books on how to study and learn faster, and spend endless nights redoing work so it would be “perfect” even though I knew it was good enough. Then things went wrong, I was so obsessed with getting things perfect that I would procrastinate on important works, because I was SERIOUSLY AFRAID of doing them below expectations. I was late on most assignments, meaning poor end results, poor sleep habits and diet, HUGE STRESS LEVELS, being always irritable and moody and lowering self-esteem. Luckily I had a wonderful lecturer who told me that my sanity is important too, so I reconsidered my whole relationship to achievement and studies, and decided working reasonably hard and being happy is better than trying to be perfect at everything and being miserable. Much love to you all.

  • WitchesRave January 28th, 2012 5:28 AM

    The education system in the US is so different..
    In my country(Ireland), your grades throught-out the years dont really matter because whether or not you go to university is COMPLETELY based on 2 weeks of exams that you have to do at the end of 6th year/senior year, extra-curricular activities mean nothing.

    You can do up to 9 subjects i think, but your best 6 subjects are taken and their scores calculated and based on what score you got, say 480/600, it means you can do a certain course in university because each course has a point minimum. University is also free (excluding books and stuff).

  • diny January 28th, 2012 5:42 AM

    that is exactly what i do, right now. i should study hard because my exams on next Monday. but i end up in the internet. and feel so gross about it. also panic, because i don’t study yet.
    when i was in high school, i never be like this. this start when i was at college. and i am on my second year now. when i started college, i thought, “i should get A’s. I SHOULD, like it is a MUST.” and that is how my stressing life begin and how i feel so gross about being myself. i love my self better, but i should get A’s.
    and the bad news is there will be much much much test (every week). and i always worry about it.

    maybe that things makes me get OCD. i kinda know how i could get it. that is, like you said Rachael, i want to prove to anybody that i am not stupid. i feel so scare if someone think that i am stupid. so, i work so hard before. but now, i’m not work as hard as before, and i feel so gross about it. i can’t even enjoy to be here (in the internet) because i should study. but i like to be here. ahhh, complicated.

  • Jesss January 28th, 2012 7:15 AM

    This is wonderful. My school constantly expected us all to get A’s and A*s and as a result I set wayyy too high standards for my work and so do my friends. I’m British and our school system is different and I go to a grammar school (it’s a state school with a state set entrance exam, its weird) so we’re expected to naturally get stuff and take exams early. But you can’t be best in everything and I’ve realised that there are a lot of things that are just as important as doing well at school. Thank you so much for this article :)

  • soybrain January 28th, 2012 9:01 AM

    oh, I wish my friends would read this. they’re stressing about everything and make me seem like a slacker. it’s not like you’re doomed for life because you fail one geography test. I wish people in my grade would relax and not take everything so seriously

  • YeaaahNadine January 28th, 2012 9:05 AM

    so related to me (i guess.) i mean, i’m not like the ‘best one’ in class or getting A’s frequently, but i was considered as a smart girl among my friends. but i never felt good enough, not smart enough, not ‘genius’ enough. and this insecurity happens to my physical appearance and social life too.

    but now, after reading your article (which was really inspiring!) i understand that every person needs to learn how to ACCEPT themselves, with all their gifts and flaws. i think i need to apply it to myself as well.
    FUN is the cure for all anxieties!

  • IGeek January 28th, 2012 9:42 AM

    It is never-ending. In the UK there were SATs at age 14, which were hyped up by teachers as the most important thing ever. Then GCSEs at 16 – no now these are more important. Then A-Levels at 18 – no, really, these are the most important. And then that all seems like childsplay once you’re at university and having to do yearly exams there, and thinking possibly about a graduate recruitment programme or post-grad work.

    I’m self-employed part-time now doing something that doesn’t rely on any of the grades I got at school or my degree. My digestive system thanks me for it.

    On being known as “the smart one”: how frustrating is it to have people jump straight to “smart” and not “nice”? You may be perfectly polite and have good friends (who presumably like you, unless you’re in one of *those* female friendships) but you’re seen as smart first, and a nice person second.

  • Janelle January 28th, 2012 11:08 AM

    Oh, wow… do I know who this article is talking about. Its amazing seeing that there are so many other people who have been similar to me in regards to school. In middle school, I was in all advanced classes, secretary of the student council, and spoke at my 8th grade graduation. Im a junior in high school now, and I decided that taking 3 AP classes, and Advanced Chemistry in addition to Algebra II (my worst subject). I also decided that being in both the NHS and the NAHS (National Arts Honors Society) at school would be a good idea. If that isnt enough, I spend 3 nights a week at my dance studio. For the first time ever, I came into my counselor this year totally 100% stressed. As a person who already struggles with depression, the pressure wasnt helping at all. On monday I start second semester and I am dropping NHS and AP Psych. in favor of a lighter social studies course. I do feel worried about how colleges will view my decisions, but I am so happy that I’m having less of a heavy academic load, starting monday. Also, I’m looking foreward to being able to make it to dance all the time and focus on the AP art. This article makes me feel better about my choices!

  • amyalbertson January 28th, 2012 1:41 PM

    Thank you for validating exactly how I feel! I’m a junior in college and I just want to quit school right now! But I can’t. And we all need to remember that the purpose of college is to explore and learn new things and find our interests, not to get some arbitrary degree with the promise of a high paying job.

  • stellar January 28th, 2012 1:51 PM

    esp when u have a high iq…the pressure to live up to that never ends!! ironic, since the critics didn’t get that ‘rating’; somehow *they* are the ones telling u “what a smart person is supposed to do and be like”. it’s crucial to be able to be a whole human being, not a one-dimensional one, based on others’ ignorance about this issue.

  • stellar January 28th, 2012 1:53 PM

    p.s. by “critics” i mean the people in yr life who try to tell u how to be, see yrself and ‘further prove’ yourself in school: parents, teachers, etc.

  • timelady January 28th, 2012 1:56 PM

    You just described my life. I used to get panic attacks during calculus tests. The class that ruined my GPA. Now, I’m a nineteen year old law student, doing the responsible thing for my future. All I want to do, though, is write books.

  • PearlFog January 28th, 2012 3:37 PM

    I was the smart girl my whole life and I wound up studying English Literature at Cambridge. The work was OK but I was eight hundred miles away from home and horribly homesick.

    The real hard times came for me after graduation. My family were very ambitious for me and I had never been ambitious at all. I’m quite a delicate person, personality wise, and I really just wanted a nice quiet life. So for two years after graduation I was depressed, unemployed, not functioning at all. Eventually, through desperation, I had to accept who I was and decide if my family couldn’t accept that too, it didn’t make a failure or a bad person. I got a part time job in a clothes shop three years ago and have been poor and content ever since.

    Last summer I saw a middle-aged female academic I knew in Cambridge and she asked me what I was up to. I often find it hard to tell people as they tend to be thoughtless and judgemental at my ‘wasting my talent’, but she looked at me wistfully and said, ‘I wish I had been brave enough to do what I really wanted with my life instead of being a doctor like my parents wanted’.

    I couldn’t help it, I burst into tears of pure relief. It was finally a little validation for all the years and years of heartache it had cost me to stand up for myself and be who I knew I really was inside.

  • The Eurythmic Queen of Nowhere January 28th, 2012 6:36 PM

    Last year, my AP US teacher said something awesome that made me think. We were watching a movie about the UCal Berkeley protests during the sixties, and someone remarked that it seemed like such a waste that those really smart kids were giving up their futures by getting arrested and such, and that if it were him, he wouldn’t have gotten involved. At the end of the film, some of the people involved were interviewed about their how they ended up, and many of them were successful, and very happy. Later, my teacher turned to us and said, “You should never worry about the smart ones, because no matter what they do, they’ll always turn out okay.” So when the going gets rough and I seriously consider dropping the IB Diploma, and not going to college, I remember that in the end, it always turns out all right for the smart ones.

  • Emily D January 28th, 2012 7:08 PM

    This is wonderful. I’m in my senior year of high school, and I was pushing myself past my limits up until now- I was going to bed past one covered in papers and text books every night, and then would wake up at five just to do more homework. I rarely ever went to lunch, in fear that I should be doing work instead. Recently I decided to drop one of my four AP classes and take a Theater Tech class instead- which now may be jeopardizing one of my college acceptances, which just really, really sucks- but I’m not going to lie- I fricken love it (my schedule change, not the college thing)!! The class is way more interesting and engaging to me than my previous one, and my massive workload has magically become completely manageable. And sometimes, that’s just what you got to do: do more of what makes you happy.

    I know most people are going to go through that obsessive phase of pleasing colleges, and I know exactly what that’s like, but don’t forget that pleasing yourself is really important too.

    • Katherine January 28th, 2012 8:34 PM

      Ditto! I dropped AP computer science in favor of an art class, and I’m so much happier.

  • Katherine January 28th, 2012 8:31 PM

    I could have written this! I’m a sophomore at a super-hard, super-competitive school, and there are many nights that I break down crying because of all the stress. I feel like such a loser sometimes because I’m in only one AP class and most of my classmates are taking 3 or 4. I worry that I’m not “balanced” enough, or that my resume won’t be good enough, but I just can’t quit. Thanks for putting things in perspective.

  • A January 28th, 2012 11:01 PM

    i agree…i think its good to work hard in school but do it at a pace you want. you don’t need high course levels or a number grade to validate your intelligence…it isn’t the end of the world if you go to community college or don’t graduate high school top 10 in your class.

  • Hazelxo January 29th, 2012 10:45 AM

    I love this! I really get where you’re coming from. I’m only in 9th grade, but I want to drop out of highschool (I never will though, it dosen’t fit with my life long plan that I made when I was three) x

  • kitty kat January 29th, 2012 1:11 PM

    I feel you girl. Not to add to the endless list of comments about how I too was the “smart girl,” but I just had a conversation with a guy at a bar last night in which he called me “smart girl,” or alternately “girl with three brains.” I’m about to graduate college, and I have written two theses (well, at my school they are more like 20-50 page papers written over a semester so I’m not sure that they are the equivalent of other peoples theses), and I am doing a third now, and sometimes I don’t really know what I am actually doing. Who am I proving anything to? One more semester of work is my plan (built to fail?), and then a long, long, long much needed break. Sure, I’ll be back in school soon enough, MFA programs are enticing, but I’m twenty one, and I won’t be forever. Having a life you love, that doesn’t make you cry randomly or involve anxiety medication is worthwhile. I’ve been considering not going to graduation, if only to stop myself from feeling competitive and ruining a good day. But I think I’ll make it through, and then let the break/downtime/irresponsible endless summer begin!
    It was nice to read your story, I wished paragraph three from the bottom had been longer, about learning to take it easy.
    btw – take it easy lady!

  • barrett January 29th, 2012 2:37 PM

    I love this…
    Last year I went through a similar downward spiral of perfectionism and pressure to be extremely well-rounded when I’m really not. Like you, I reached a point where I was physically making myself sick. Luckily, I was able to get help and now I’m a lot better. I made a conscious decision to take only 2 AP’s my senior year in my favorite subjects (English and Art) and to fill my schedule with fun elective courses and a lower-level math. I am really happy now and actually have time for my family and for doing things I enjoy! To all those who are stuck in a rut with this academia nervosa, be strong. You will come out of it.

  • KinuKinu January 29th, 2012 5:29 PM

    I was (and am) the smart girl. People never told me ‘get good grades, go to college,get a high-paying job, etc.’ I love learning and I inhale books and information and I remember it.I go at my own pace and no one pressures me to get good grades.
    When I have a test I focus on me and my education instead of what my parents would think if I got a D.
    Great article!!

  • Quinnpinn January 29th, 2012 8:12 PM

    This describes my life right now. sometimes I get a bit creeped out about how much I relate to all of Rookie’s articles.

  • AndromedaGalaxy January 29th, 2012 10:11 PM

    I go to a crazy competitive school where it’s not uncommon for seniors to be taking six or seven AP classes at a time. I’m in six, and while there can be some late nights, I’ve learned to make time for friends and fun things, and I have a few select extracurriculars that make life more than a huge pile of assignments. When I made the choice to take as many AP classes as I am, I also made sure that I picked classes that I liked and found interesting, which can make the studying a little less boring. And I decided it was ok if I didn’t always have an A in everything, which is a huge stress relief.

  • F.C. January 30th, 2012 10:37 AM

    Congratulations on the article. After reading it, I hope that young people and their parents can understand that being smart at school is not all that a person can be. Life is much bigger than that. It took me much more time than the author to realize that life didn’t suppose to be so painful.
    It is also important to know that you can not live to please other people’s expectations about you. It is so much pressure when since you are a kid people tell you: I know you gonna make it! You gonna be the best!
    One thing is to be supportive. But when you make a person feels like he/she can not fail in any circunstance, that is not allow him/her to be human.
    During most part of my life, I felt in a marathon aganist myself. Nobody should have to live like that. It is not fair.

  • Flower January 30th, 2012 11:57 AM

    This article came at a good time for me. I’m currently picking my classes for next year, and aside from maths, drama, PE and ICT all my teachers want me to take their subjects and say that ‘you can get an A* if you work hard!” My parents and everyone are trying to get me to take extra topics, do things early etc and its just crazy. So thanks for posting this!

  • allydoubleyou January 30th, 2012 12:25 PM

    Great article! I, too, was a “smart kid,” and I, too, suffered from the not-good-enough-at-math blues. I started getting Bs in algebra in 7th grade, and that definitely messed with my self-esteem. Have you read this from New York Magazine? It’s a really interesting piece on how praising your kids, particularly for being smart, can actually be really bad for them. Check it out! If you daaaaare. (that’s right i just dared you)

  • BloooBerry January 30th, 2012 3:00 PM

    This is kind of creepy, but in a way comforting. Creepy because it describes my life a little to well. Comforting because it feels good to know other people have gone through this (with a happy ending).

    Thank you for writing this article, it gives me hope.

  • lynellmarie January 31st, 2012 12:47 AM

    I am currently dealing with this situation. I try so hard to get the highest grade in all of my classes and to get my GPA up, but it just all backfires in my face. (This was in Elementary, Middle, High School and College.) Math, however, was my worst subject. It was really weird because I failed at the assignments, even with help (tutors! one on one! extra credit!) but excelled at the tests and state tests (FCATs).
    I am currently about to take my last two college classes at this school, one Math (for the third time in a row) and one English (I only got an F last time because my partner didn’t come in with the project on the due date, so I get faulted). I’m trying so hard but it just never seems enough. Remember girls, you too can be like me and graduate with a degree you never wanted at a school you were forced upon going to and never wanted to attend in the first place.

  • clooobo January 31st, 2012 10:01 AM

    Hi I just wanted to say i really appreciate this article. I suffer from anxiety, stress and depression and this year it has gotten so bad I now have I.B.S. Not nice.
    I have to see a counsellor and psychotherapist and now I feel like I can finally start to get better, but it will take some time and i am on loads of different medication to cope.
    Some days I feel like I am drowning and will never cope, but reading this article and this website, I now feel like I have somewhere I can come too when life gets a little to real.
    Thank you for this article its nice to know there are other people out there feeling the same way.
    Thank you thank you thank you

  • Kristin January 31st, 2012 3:27 PM

    Wow, this describes me almost exactly! I’m so glad you figured out what I did in college- it’s not worth it. I’m still incredibly successful (we never “lose” our smarts), but I have a MUCH better balance now between everything. Thanks for posting this!

  • Mariana January 31st, 2012 6:56 PM

    Wow! This really hits me… I’ve been thinking about quitting recently: high school is so overestimated! I still feel a little bit guilty about this new sensation. However I decided to study a damn-fun-relax-artistic-creative career even though my parents disagree. Thanks Rookie Team! <3

  • Mahala January 31st, 2012 7:38 PM

    This is my life! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am a senior in high school. My first three years were all about being that “smart girl.” I started out this year with that mentality. I was in more classes than I could handle and was averaging two hours a night of sleep. I sunk into deep depression and overwhelming anxiety- things I had been battling for years. Eventually, I even began to self injure. I was hospitalized for two months, received treatment, recently got back into school with a much lighter load, and am feeling indescribably better. I still have to fight my perfectionist tendencies and still worry about how this year will affect my future ( I was hospitalized when college applications were due so I’ll have to wait till next year) but I am in such a better place right now. I may have “quit” in some ways but I’ve been working so much harder on what really matters- my health.

  • gj14 February 1st, 2012 12:27 AM

    This sense of being the smart girl became embedded in me early on. When I felt it slipping away, I met with depression, anxiety and eds.

  • KaiKate February 10th, 2012 5:06 PM

    This really strikes close to home. I did everything perfectly too. Even then, pouring my life into being the highest-achieving, smartest person in my highly competitive high school wasn’t good enough. It got me into an excellent college (I’m not going to say which, for sake of anonymity), but it didn’t make me feel particularly good about myself. It didn’t make me feel happy or satisfied in those quiet moments where there was no one else around to look at me or judge me. I was probably a jerk in high school too — I definitely know what you mean about only having friends because you kept your judgments silent. I didn’t understand what it must have felt like for the people who thought they were bad people for not doing well, but were too caught up in a cycle of overwhelming choices, thoughts, and decisions to see clearly. I didn’t understand it was possible to genuinely value something more than school success without being vaguely misguided. I never allowed myself the freedom to step back and sincerely acknowledge whether or not I wanted to study the things I was studying, or whether or not they were necessary steps to something that I sincerely wanted for good, honest reasons. It was all a safety net, all of that success grubbing, and I was scared of letting any of it go, for even a second. I thought that by studying enough and doing enough of these checklist things I would guarantee myself the freedom to make choices about what I really wanted to do later on in life. // Self-value and excellent school work are not mutually dependent, but are also not mutually exclusive.

  • LeavesThatAreGreen March 23rd, 2012 7:36 PM

    Wow, thank you. That is me RIGHT NOW. I’m in the middle of these headaches, this staying-up-all-night-studying panic. It doesn’t even feel meaningful anymore. I don’t even want to become a lawyer or whatever, I just want those As to feel… worth something. I just end up panic whatever I’m doing, like feeling bad when I’m writing this comment because my English isn’t good enough.

  • bigdreamer March 26th, 2012 8:25 PM

    this is SO relevant! just got into the private college of my dreams… the homework is going to kill me. but i’m gonna keep going!

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini April 22nd, 2012 8:01 AM

    I’m currently enrolled in basic Norwegian public school, and I basically have free time to do whatever I want for another few months. I get great grades by bs-ing everything. However, in less than two years I’m starting IB, and appearently the math is downright impossible (We’re at a shamefully low level in Norway, math-wise).
    I’ve pretty much been pretending to be extremely hard working for the last three years, and soon, I will eventually have to work for it. Ugh. Someone wish me good luck!

  • OC May 16th, 2012 4:48 AM

    This happened to me. People always told me I was smart, and I internalized it and worked hard to get the grades to prove it. Sophomore year of high school, I stopped functioning. Couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t stay awake, couldn’t focus. Spent a year and half out of school trying to figure it out. Managing to graduate on time this June, taking a gap year before college, terrified of what college will be like. Thank you so much for sharing – maybe there is hope for me after all.

  • Vicky May 26th, 2012 8:23 AM

    I can relate to this SO MUCH, like, even the part about working on multiplication with your mom and ending up in tears.
    I’ve been the “smart girl” in my class for years, and I’ve always felt so much pressure to add up to what other people expected of me. I would work late at night, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, to work on projects or homework that weren’t even THAT important. I just wanted to be better than people expected. But it is wearing me out, and I don’t want to just be “the smart girl”. There are so many aspects of me that need attention too, and I had never realized that until I read this article. Thanks for just typing out loud that IT’S OKAY TO DO WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU. I really needed someone to just say that :)