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The Thirst, The Need, and The Greed: Academic Validation

Life was good until the validation pushed itself deeper into my mind.



As of late, I’ve been obsessed with watching ‘Gilmore Girls.’ Specifically, I’ve found myself repeating this particular line that Rory, the main character, says in the series:


“Who cares if I’m pretty if I fail my finals?”


Or even singing Marina’s ‘Are You Satisfied?’ on the bus commute to college; on the way to lectures; while studying at home; whispering the line “high achiever / don’t you see? / baby nothing comes for free” as I think of the future - a future where I can finally achieve my dreams.


But first comes getting a perfect grade, right?


What Rory describes in her phrase and what Marina writes in countless of her songs (like ‘Oh No!’ and ‘I Am Not A Robot’) is something termed as ‘academic validation’. As Urban Dictionary defines it, it is the ‘feeling achieved or appreciated when receiving praise at school/college’.


People who crave academic validation often feel an adrenaline rush when they get the marks they desire; when their professors praise their work; when during participation in class, the professors call their questions ‘excellent’. Their self-confidence and their perception of themselves is—sometimes inextricably—linked to their academic performance. Teenagers and young adults—who are still discovering their identity and are in this weird phase of ‘you’re-not-a-kid-but-you’re-not-an-adult-either’—find themselves going back to their scores to feel recognized and acknowledged as an individual in their own right.


Sometimes, it seems justifiable. Fair, even: in this world, scores have become important to access colleges and scholarships and financial aid. Parents are happy their children are doing well, and it’s advantageous to their social position that their kid is a ‘successful’ and ‘academic’ person. I mean, my parents pushed me from the very beginning to accumulate certificates, take part in Olympiads, win medals in competitive exams.


And then, as a bullied person, I sank deeper into academics: began reading whatever my teacher would give, noted down every word she said, and felt my heart explode when my English teachers would give me compliments. And of course, those 70s on 80s and A pluses and medals and the idea that I know stuff, and I will know more stuff if I just put myself into studies were fun things, good things.


Life was good until the validation pushed itself deeper into my mind.


The validation of scores is what it is: instant gratification. That swift rush of adrenaline when praised is enough to leave you giddy in joy for the rest of the day. And when it dies out, it leaves you both bereft of any happiness and begging for more. Always looking at your professors (in my case, English profs) for praise, trying to be better, and of course, feeling the deep dejection when you don’t get the results you expect yourself to get.


I got my results recently, and they weren’t what I expected; and I became violently sick. Throwing up, shaking, sobbing, feeling feverish, and anxious.


Everything collided and I felt like my world—tiny as it was—would break open, be destroyed. In classes, I felt like I’d disappointed everyone around me with my marks, despite my grade point dropping only to a nine. I thought that I would never be able to publish or get out of my home if I continued to perform this miserably. Feeling flighty, like I could never do things at my own pace, learn at my own pace. And coupled with social anxiety, I began thinking that I’m not worth anyone’s time. Worse, all of this happened in a span of an hour,: just because my CGPA fell from a 10 to a 9.91.


The thing is, I don’t need academic validation. In fact, none of us students do need it.


But when you see yourself and your identity as nothing but an extension of your intelligence—and in this climate, your productivity—it’s so easy to fall into this loophole of seeking validation.


The idea is that your value in society is determined by your work, and for most of us, academics are the only way to rise through the hierarchies and create our own place. We learn, therefore, that our value is connected to our academics, and it is the sole authority that dictates what truly is our worth. It is, as my classmate once put it, self-deprecating. That you can put your whole self in another person’s hands: and while I do seek academic validation, I agree. One could not possibly give so much power to another person, can they?


So today, as we struggle with getting those grades, simply passing our exams, or getting into those Ivy League institutions like Rory, or even feel worthless like Marina expresses in her songs, I want to pray for us.


I want to pray that one day, we can live without that anxiety throbbing within us. And I pray that one day we can read a book–not for the approval of a teacher, or as an extra reading, or as enhancing our CV, but for the little child within us, curious to know about the world.


For the little child curious to see the world through their own eyes.



 

Keerthana A is an Indian writer and often describes herself as a "Mumbaikar living within a Tamilian", owing to her multilingual identity. She is a lover of poetry and has an avid learning for new formats and styles of poetry. Her work has been featured in Healthline Zine, Ilinix Magazine and is upcoming in Fleuri Magazine. She enjoys singing, swimming, watching historical shows, and running towards the nearest beach to feel the ocean waves.



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