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Overcoming Academic Validation

Maybe the praise is what I long for. Maybe it is the need for control or proving to myself that I can do it—I can handle it all on my own. Maybe it’s to prove that I'm good enough. But finding your worth in something so temporary can cause you to lose yourself in the process.

I am not sure when the need to get good grades really started. I remember the E for exceeding, the M for meeting, and the P for progressing back in elementary school. I remember it vividly—the praise I got when I received an award for the Flag Essay in 5th grade, but also the tears that stung my eyes after failing my math test later that year. I wake up, already feeling behind, and go to sleep feeling as though what I did today will not be enough for tomorrow. Doubts begin to fill my mind: What if I can’t do this? What if I fail? What if I finally crack? 

To some extent, we have all experienced a type of panic when we see our grades drop. You feel a sense of shock and disappointment, or maybe you honestly could care less. However, more times than not, our grades have become intertwined with our sense of worth. For many of us, we may not even realize the impact it has until something sets it off. Wilfrid Laurier University explains how those of us seeking validation find that our “identity, happiness, and self-esteem are all tied to [our] academic achievements.” When an assignment or test does not go our way, it’s not easy to get over it or move on. Overthinking and overanalyzing how to do better or work harder next time can start to weigh you down. 

In 2019, a study found that academic validation was the source of many’s declining mental health, with increased anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and poor sleep. The battle for perfection is often fueled by one’s need to live up to a parent’s expectations, or most likely, your own. But you can't always hold yourself to such high standards all the time. There are moments of acceptance from understanding what you are so desperately striving for, is not always worth your physical and mental health. 

The need for academic validation is a draining feeling, but there are ways to cope and regain your sense of self. For starters, the most simple thing you can do is remind yourself that you are not your grades. Your grades may reflect certain aspects of your life, such as the time and work you put into that assignment or test, but your overall grade is not who you are. You must retrain your brain to accept that it is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to fail but to try again. 

Remind yourself that there is more to life than the grades you achieve or don't achieve. Try

not to let it consume you. Take time to go outside, go on a walk or run, and reset. Although you want to be perfect and strive to reach those many expectations, know that nobody has reached perfection. You simply cannot be perfect, because perfection is different for everyone. Someone's excitement over getting a B might make you rethink your need for an A in every class. Reflect on your past achievements and see how much you have already overcome. You do not need academic validation to excel in life. You need to remind yourself that you are loved no matter the outcome because you are not your grades. You are you, and that is good enough. 

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